The Language of Flowers

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Language of Flowers

Here in the south, winter is ever mercurial. There are Januarys when the supermarket shelves are stripped bare by those whirled into a panic over the latest snowy weather report. Then there are Decembers when the Christmas wreath adorning the front door finds itself totally obscured by stubborn scarlet leaves that still hold tight to the limbs of the dogwood tree by the porch. We never know what to expect. It is a rare year, however, when winter shuns us completely, with nary a snowflake nor gale. But such has been our fate this year and Edward and I, both ardent lovers of cold, have been seriously displeased by the weather. January felt like March. February flirted like May.

So it was on this hot March day that we two disgruntled souls made our way along the sidewalk for our afternoon walk, both of us feeling fairly resentful towards the vernal mantilla that now draped itself so lavishly over our street. But like any coquette, this newly born season so famous for beauty began, ever so slowly, to win us both over in whispers.

The first voice we heard came from the wisteria vine escalading up into the pine trees, its raiment of lavender blossoms seducing the air with sweet fragrance. Then we came to the chorus of cherry trees, with petals so white as to be a reinvention of the colour. They dotted our pathway - one here, one there - their beauty both shy and extravagant at once. We stopped under this ivory umbrella, both of us breathing deeply. Edward glanced up at me just as I looked down at him. And we smiled. Ah, we couldn’t help ourselves. All around us, it was Spring. Red and purple tulips, yellow daffodils. Azaleas and hyacinths, foxglove, wild violet. Each flower seemed to be speaking to us in a language almost audible and one heard so clearly on the first day of Spring. Colourful voices lifted up all around us - a Strauss waltz, a Wordsworth poem.

Perhaps the Victorians understood better than we the communicative power inherent in the natural world, a power most manifest in Springtime. These romantic souls used floriography, better known as the language of flowers, to express their deepest feelings; feelings that usually could never be spoken outloud. Lovers would send coded messages to one another hidden in bouquets of flowers. A posy of baby’s breath told a lady she was loved everlastingly and if that posy included some jonquils, honeysuckle, daphne and moss rose, well then... she was a lucky girl indeed. But oh, it was a dark day when a clutch of yellow roses was left at the door.
Purple Hyacinths begged for forgiveness.
Verbena requested prayer.

I cannot help but think of this language now as Edward and I make for home. Each flower we see is sending us a sweetly secret message for this new season.
The wisteria calls out a welcome, the tulips speak only of love.
The pear blossoms remind us of comfort while the daffodils vow a new beginning.
And as we pass by the little bed of lily-of-the valley that returns every year to a neighbour’s garden, I swear I can hear those tiny flowers singing again and again, “return to happiness, return to happiness”, their perfumed voices fading slowly on the afternoon breeze.
Return to Happiness.
Is there a better way to think about Spring?


I would be remiss if I did not mention The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, a book I recently read and completely loved. A wonderful story of forgiveness that also communicates in a floral language. A perfect story to read in this daffodil month of new beginnings. You can also investigate this most expressive of languages for yourself with A Victorian Flower Dictionary, HERE.