Valentine’s Day is the perfect holiday to give plants and flowers to the gardener in your life. Cut bouquets, potted plants, and even trees and shrubs say “be mine” to the botanically inclined. Nowadays a heart-shaped emoticon in a text message might pass as a romantic gesture, but I think it’s time to revive the centuries old “language of flowers” to bring romance to the garden.
People have given flowers and plants symbolic meaning throughout history. Assigning human virtues to flowers as a form of communication was first conceived in France in the late 1700s. A beautiful, subtle and somewhat ambiguous language expressed love and passion along with darker emotions such as hate, rage, or envy. This floral language was expressed through art, poetry and bouquets.
From the late 1820s through the rest of the century, authors wrote dictionaries defining the meaning of flowers. Young ladies of the day studied and interpreted the “language” in England, France and America. Multiple meanings were often assigned to the same flower, further complicating the interpretation.
In the United States, this trend found a footing in 1827 when Constantine Samuel Rafinesque wrote a weekly column in the Saturday Evening Post titled “The School of Flora.” Rafinesque, a scientific scholar, was primarily interested in discovering new botanical species. His scientific articles also described the flowers’ emblematic meanings.
While you won’t find the language of flowers included in scholarly papers today, florists use the language of flowers or “floriography” when designing arrangements for weddings and other milestone events. Reports on the royal wedding reveal that Kate Middleton’s all white bouquet included lily of the valley, meaning “trustworthy,” myrtle for “hope and love,” and lilac for “majesty, purity and innocence.”
To translate feelings into the language of flowers, here are few ideas:
Instead of giving another box of candy, say “be mine” by making old-fashioned bouquets called “tussie mussies.” These small round nosegays originated in the 15th century and included aromatic herbs, flowers and foliage to ward off bad smells. During the Victorian age, flowers for tussie-mussies were carefully chosen to convey messages, romantic and otherwise.
Start by planning your message carefully. A few ideas include rosemary (Rosmarinus officianlis) for remembrance or magnolia leaves to signal “lover of nature” and show your admiration with either pink roses or dwarf sunflowers. Blue periwinkle blooms mean “early friendship” while Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) sends a message of gallantry. Alstromeria lilies express loyalty or devotion and ferns signify sincerity. Cut stems to 5 to 6 inches in length, secure with a rubber band or floral tape, cover the wrapped stems with a paper doily or lace, and add ribbon streamers along with a hand written note to describe the meaning of each flower.
Potted plants and container gardens are sustainable alternatives to cut flowers.
A potted cactus reveals ardent love and represents endurance.
Bright daffodils can be interpreted in several ways such as “unrequited love,” “you’re the only one” or “the sun is always shining when I’m with you.” Lend a hand planting the bulbs after they finish blooming to earn a special place in your gardener’s heart.
Present pansies to say “think of me” or to symbolize pleasant thoughts.
Ivy signifies affection and friendship. Tell an absent friend how much you miss them by tucking a packet of zinnia seeds in a card.
To avoid sending the wrong message, steer clear of basil, a symbol of hatred; or butterfly weed signifying “let me go.” Both lettuce and hydrangeas symbolize heartlessness. Tell someone “no” in no uncertain terms with yellow carnations.
Native plant enthusiasts might include trillium in the garden for ardor and indicate benevolence with Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Plant cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) to indicate distinction, goldenrod (Solidago spp.) to send encouragement, or show amiability with Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens).
To grow a romantic garden, include Camellia japonica meaning “my destiny is in your hands.” Signify fragile and ephemeral passion with azaleas and send a “love letter” with Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus africanus). A border of sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritime) shows “worth beyond beauty,” with jonquil bulbs (Narcissus jonquilla) tucked in to communicate desire.
Trees are a lasting testament to true love. A few good choices include cedar (Juniperius virginiana), which conveys strength; dogwood as a symbol of durability; or hollies to indicate domestic happiness.
If you want to learn more about floriography, there are many online resources and printed books available. For research-based plant information, the Clemson Home & Garden Information Center (http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/) can help you grow your love of gardening this Valentine’s Day.
Amy L. Dabbs is a Clemson Extension Urban Horticulture Extension Agent. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service will be offering the 2015 Turf School on Feb. 10 at the USDA Vegetable Laboratory, 2700 Savannah Highway. The cost of the training is $75 and includes lunch.
Participants will receive four S.C. pesticide recertification credits. Credits for Georgia and North Carolina are also available. Registration is required.