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How Flower Obsessed Victorians Encoded Messages in Bouquets

Imagine this: a flower delivery guy knocks on the door with a beautifully wrapped bouquet. You read the card, then look for a gorgeous vase to display them in. But as a wealthy Victorian in the 19th century, you immediately grab your flower dictionary to decode the secret meaning behind the bouquet.

It’s not easy to work out - an arrangement of delphinium, hydrangea, oleander, basil, and orchid means: you’re heartless and haughty, I hate you, and beware my revenge - the ultimate passive aggressive present!

Maybe someone sent you geranium to ask whether they can see you at the next dance. If you have striped carnations blooming in your conservatory, you can send them back to say, “I’m afraid not.” Victorian flower language, or floriography, was the pre-digital version of emoji, where symbolism saves you for having to voice your feelings.  

Sending a message was no easy task either. To arrange a floral message, you needed easy access to hundreds of flowers, which therefore limited it to the upper class. You had to be able to identify the plants on sight, which unfortunately lead to inevitable misinterpretation and who knows how that may have changed history!

The Language of flowers also spread beyond actual flower bouquets, into literature and fine art. When Jane Eyre looks at snowdrops, crocuses and pansies in chapter nine, she’s feeling hopeful, cheerful, modest, and preoccupied with the connection between money and happiness - bet you wish you know that when you were at college!

Rachel, FlowerPop florist, says we still see symbolic flowers requested today, such as the lily - which some link to funerals (white lilies are a symbol of the Virgin Mary, and represent purity; therefore conveying a return to innocence in death.) and of course roses, especially at Valentines Day!

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