Mandy Kirkby

The Language of Flowers: A Miscellany

“We plant, we nurture, we grow and we give, different flowers for different moments in time, but all the same purpose: to say that which cannot be said, and to say it with beauty and with grace.”

The Language of Flowers: A Miscellany is a bright, tempting book on the history and meaning of flowers. The original Le Language des Fleurs, by Charlotte de Latour was published in 1819 and was well-enjoyed during Victorian times where flowers were striking metaphors used communicate inexpressible feelings.

Like the daffodil which means “new beginnings.”

The daffodil has grown in Britain in the wild since the sixteenth century, once coloring fields and meadows in great drifts and gradually creeping into cottage gardens. To the Victorians, the daffodil was a flower of the countryside, simple and natural.

The language of flowers contains deeply human elements: Basil means hate, anemone means forsaken. A dahlia signifies dignity, a daisy speaks innocence.

The daisy was known, in Chaucer’s time, as ‘the day’s eye’, because the flower opens in the morning and closes in the evening. For centuries, this sweet and tender everyday flower has been a symbol for innocence and lack of innocence.

Many of the meanings adhere to the flowers’ characteristics; when it blooms, appearance, even robustness. Anyone familiar with ivy understands why it means “fidelity.” It clings and adheres beyond reason. A large ivy plant on our street is separate from its roots and still, it climbs the library wall.

Fidelity was high on the list of Victorian virtues, and friendship brooches, one of the most popular gits of the period, usually took the form of a small metal bar entwined with ivy, and the inscription “nothing can detach me from you.”

What this beautiful and thoughtful book speaks to is a human continuum that endures apart from culture and individual lives. A continuum based on language. The allure of language comes in its breadth, with facile fluidity we express the cosmos. Novelist Marilynne Robinson wondered at our continuous ability to make language and I agree. Flowers and words are but one way of communicating, there are so many.