Floriography flower

A tradition that is becoming a lot more popular today...

Floriography or ‘the language of flowers’ began in England in the Victorian era as a way for those less poetic, or those forbidden to do so, to express their feelings.  Books were published that were essentially flower dictionaries explaining what each flower means. The earliest being Le Language de Fleurs written in Paris, 1819 by Charlotte de Latour.  The tradition originates in Persia and Turkey where flowers replaced words.  The tradition seemed to be dying out but when Kate Middleton used it to create her wedding arrangements in 2011 it has come back into use.

We’ve talked with some Floristry experts to see how they feel about Florigraphy and how flowers have had an effect on their lives.

Christie McIntosh from Floriography.com.au

Claire McIntosh

When do you remember becoming aware of Floriography?

I have always felt drawn to antique treasures, and I enjoy rummaging through vintage stores and markets for one-of-a-kind pieces. On one such outing, I discovered a tiny flower dictionary dating back to 1844. Instantly captivated, I carefully turned each delicate page to discover that once upon a time every flower had a special meaning, and lovers and friends alike used this secret language to express their feelings to each other during the conservative Victorian era.

Why does it interest you?

I think it’s the secrecy that attracts me the most. The thought that an innocent looking bunch of flowers can actually carry the most potent message of romance or even something much less savoury is so exciting! When I personally deliver a gift I look forward to seeing the recipient open the card, and then start to search for each flower in the bouquet, as they begin to decode their special message.

How common do you think Floriography is?

From my experience it seems that Floriography is still quite forgotten, apart from a flood of flower language books in the 80’s. As far as flowers are concerned, today people are more interested in highly artistic designs and aesthetically pleasing arrangements, without even considering that there may be more than meets the eye. Weddings are a great example of this –brides will usually have a sense of the colours or flowers they’d like to include in their bouquet, without realising that there is a special sentiment behind each of their favourite blooms.

Are there certain flowers you would choose for a wedding?

When designing flowers for a wedding, I try to encourage true seasonal choices – which offer the newlyweds the chance to enjoy the flowers from their special day in their own garden, blooming on their anniversary every year.

Some of my favourite wedding flowers include: White Rose (I am worthy of you), Lily of the Valley (Return of Happiness), White tulip (purity), Thyme (vigour and happiness), Sage (longevity and wisdom), Stephanotis (fidelity), and Ivy (marital happiness).


On Valentine’s Day, there are so many more creative ways to express your love than with the expected red rose, such as Red carnations (my heart aches for you), Gardenia (transport to ecstasy), Calla Lily (Magnificent Beauty), and Agapanthus (love letters)

And for the lads – why not present him with the strong, striking Bird of Paradise – signifying faithfulness when given from a woman to a man.

While many flowers have more than one meaning, whatever you do – avoid the following (unless it suits your intentions of course); yellow chrysanthemum (slighted love), rhododendron (I am dangerous), lotus (estranged love), hydrangea (frigidity), yellow carnation (rejection).

Lianne Gray, Head Florist for Roseparks


When do you remember becoming aware of Floriography?

I was Holland trained, where I learned about the Victorian practice of Floriography. Training in Floriography was a common part of the college syllabus, but the focus on it went away for a while. It seems to be coming back a bit now.

How common do you think Floriography is?

To be honest I think it’s a trendy thing. It will come and go.

This isn’t to say that it isn’t a good thing: it’s just difficult to see how it would work. I mean it’s good for sales at certain times of the year like Valentines or Mother’s Day, but there’s so much subjectivity in Floriography.

There are no definite meanings with most flowers. In fact they are abundance in variations and this could be quite confusing.

Carnations are a great example because they have many different traditional meanings; Christians traditionally see them as symbols of undying Motherly love, and have become the official flower of Mother’s Day in the U.S. However in France they are seen as a funeral flower. It can be difficult to effectively apply Floriography because of the amount of mixed messages.

Do you think Floriography can be done successfully?

Absolutely, if there were less mixed messages I definitely think it could be done successfully.

Do you think more people should be taught about Floriography?

You have to be. The best way to do Floristry is to be truthful and honest and to learn as much as you can. If a Florist has an understand Floriography that will only be an advantage.

If people were more educated in Floriography then this would help with the mixed messages. But then we would have to teach a uniform language.

Are there certain flowers you would choose for a Wedding/ Valentine’s?

The only flower that has a universal meaning is the Red Rose (for love) which is always recommended for Valentine’s Day. However I would always recommend what the client likes.

For example I would always ask the Bride in a wedding ‘what do you like?’ and not ‘what do you want? We had a bride once who hated Carnations and when she brought in pictures of flowers she liked, they were all small bouquets of Dianthus, which are the same as Carnations.  It turns out she was making her decision based on Carnation Traditions and had heard they were often considered bad luck.

I’m quite a rule breaker when it comes to weddings: I think all flowers are wedding flowers. Traditions should be ignored if you like something. I mean, at the end of the day, all flowers are beautiful and should be respected as such.

What is the best example of Floriography you can recall?

A big Bouquet of Red Roses.

Maria Wilcox, Sorori Design Florists


What was your first experience of Floristry?

We use to spend time watching a florist doing her work from the shed on a summer afternoon. In our youth we didn’t realise the significance that those memories would have on our lives to come, nor that we were watching a former student of Constance Spry {famous for introducing modern floristry in the 1930s).

Hydrangeas in particular bring back the nostalgia of that time as her garden was over grown with them, my younger sister Lorna and I would watch her for hours.

Although I didn’t professionally enter floristry until my 20’s, when I started to work alongside Lorna in her flower shop, I discovered Hydrangeas are as ever popular with brides.

When do you remember becoming aware of Floriography?

I first became aware of Floriography when training at college. I came across a book called “The Language of Flowers”. We found it interesting how the language of flowers began in the 17th Century in Turkey, as a way for illiterate concubine women to communicate.

The Victorians later used flowers as a way to communicate their feelings to each other. We were really inspired by this creative way of using flowers almost as a secret language, at a time when you were not allowed to show your feelings.

How common do you think Floriography is?

Personally I think in the modern world that Floriography is quite uncommon. The only instance in which people bring it up is in the case of a negative, for example, in the past one or two brides have said they cannot have white lilies because they mean death. However lilies actually mean purity but even an experienced florist can find it hard to change the mind of a superstitious bride.

It is a shame that Floriography has somewhat become lost in time, but I can confidently encourage customers on the meaning of flowers if they enquire.

Are there certain flowers you would choose for Weddings?

I always like working with seasonal flowers when designing bridal work.  We have a cutting garden on our farm but I always love to pick and forage in the hedgerows. However there will always be flowers such as peonies and roses that we love but don’t grow, as there are experts that specialise in them and grow them to perfection.

There are a range of flowers that have significant meaning to our wedding work such as; Forget Me Not - True love; Lavender – Love, devotion; Jasmine – Grace Etc.

This is something that lingers in my mind as we plant and grow these flowers, amongst others at home in our cutting garden.

What is the best example of Floriography you can recall?

Professionally I have found that there is not much call for Floriography in the modern day. The occasional customer might ask what a certain herb or flower sybolises but nothing noteworthy. Personally when a bride requests Sweet Peas in her bouquet as it reminds her of her Granny, I find that a much more meaningful reason. It is personal to them and evokes an emotive response to the choice of flower. That doesn’t mean that Floriography is redundant, but certainly not as widely appreciated as it once was.

Caroline Miller and Carys Wilkins, Hadlow College

Hadlow College

When do you remember becoming aware of Floriography?

The Language of Flowers first came to my attention during history lessons at school when we looked at the Victorian era and the use of Tussie-Mussies. Almost thirty years later, whilst working as a Floristry Lecturer at Hadlow College, I was re-introduced to Floriography by Carys Wilkins, one of my then Level 2 students. Her passion for the subject was contagious and inspired me to further explore the use of Floriography within both educational and commercial contexts.

We are both in agreement that we are keen on the intrigue of secret messages and the idea that our designs can potentially carry more meaning or be considered by some as "extra thoughtful". If you want to say sorry, a hand-tied of purple Hyacinths carry even greater sentiment than a mixed bouquet (Although this language also needs to be understood by the recipient, to achieve its potential impact!).

How common do you think Floriography is today?

Floriography is not very common at all. Within the industry the term is rarely used, even after Kate Middleton recently used this tradition to inspire her choice of flowers for the royal wedding. Other than Roses meaning love, little more is generally known.

Having worked within the Floristry industry for 25 years, seeing retail florists close down whilst supermarkets and large chains take over, I am only too aware that independent florists need to step up and provide customers with a service that the unqualified staff from these larger companies are unable to replicate. Could the use of Floriography be one option; allowing florists to provide truly bespoke and meaningful designs for weddings, funerals and all other emotive occasions?

Do you feel most professional florists have an adequate knowledge of Floriography?

A number of flowers and foliage’s are traditionally used without us as florists even being aware of the origins for use. For example many brides request Myrtle in their bouquet, Myrtle being another symbol of love. Stephanotis means happiness and Sweetpea means lasting pleasure. Symbolism is also evident in many venue decorations where twining plants on tendrils signify devotion and attachment.

When looking at courtship, a whole range of sentiments can be expressed through specific flowers and colours. A first bouquet of Tulips declares love, romance blossoms and an increase in passion are symbolised by the use of darker colours - the darker the colour, the stronger the passion.

In this world of texts, emails and tweets, it is apparent we enjoy the idea of messaging. Maybe we could re-introduce this old tradition and add one more messaging system to our 21st Century repertoire.