Well! This is a tiny little book, only measuring 5-3/4 by 4-1/4 inches, with 80 pages
of tiny print. It contains a listing of—I don't know how many flowers because I didn't count them—then a listing of meanings
and which flowers match, so
there are two ways to search for the flower that expresses your feelings. The last several pages contain poems pertaining to flowers. But the best part of
this little tome is Kate Greenaway's exquisite artwork.
Kate Greenaway lived from 1846 to 1901—right smack in the Victorian period, and assigning meanings to flowers was quite the Victorian pastime, apparently. This book was first published in 1884, but there are lots of other books on this subject. I looked up a few articles, because I wondered how these meanings were determined. Here's an article from The Spruce, called The Language of Flowers: The Secret Meaning of the Flowers You Give. The first paragraph says:
Did you know the flowers you give as gifts could be sending a secret message? Flowers have a language of their own. The Victorians made an art of it. Perhaps you have heard about Victorian women carrying small bouquets, called tussie-mussies. These bouquets were not just for show or scent. The flowers in them were chosen for the messages encoded in them. For instance, strands of ivy signified fidelity and friendship, gardenias conveyed a secret love, and forsythia for anticipation.
You know how those Victorians were—very subtle about showing emotions, particularly
about relationships. The language of flowers has changed through the ages. This site also supplies a short list of flowers, some not included in the book and
some with a little different meanings.
Here is another site with a longer list. This one provides a little more explanation and long list of flowers. This next one is from the Smithsonian Gardens, describing a class for young children, and also has some nice photos of flowers. And finally, this last one is from Wikipedia, which provides a history and the most concise information on this subject of all these links. In summary, there was no carved-in-stone meanings for flowers, although certain ones prevailed. Red Roses seem to be the epitome of true love, while Marigolds—OH!, one of my favorite flowers—seems to always send a nasty message—grief, cruelty, jealousy—OH!—and the worst—vulgar minds!
In fact, there are lots of nasty messages hidden in these flowers, which, I guess I still don't quite "get it" why certain flowers were assigned with such meanings. I dutifully read through the entire book, each flower, and each emotion or message, and took notes on some that surprised me, or, in many cases annoyed me. And it is not just flowers that are included, but trees, herbs, wildflowers, (aka weeds . . .). Here are a few of the ones I noted.
Basil, also one of my favorite herbs, as my regular readers know, got stuck with hatred, and those beautiful borage plants I grow with the cucumber-flavored flowers send a message of bluntness. Cabbage symbolizes profit. Hmm.
Many flowers have different meanings according to their color. Yellow seems to not be a particularly favorable color with many flowers, although Carnations don't seem too favorable no matter what color, ranging from Alas! For my poor heart (Deep Red); disdain (Striped); and refusal (Yellow). Lavender means distrust, which was really a surprise because it is used as a healing herb and for aromatherapy. Lettuce stands for cold-heartedness, but is excellent in salads. And while the White Lily symbolizes purity and sweetness, the Yellow one stands for falsehood or gaiety.
Mint is virtuous, but Mistletoe means I surmount difficulties. Hmm, I thought it stood for kissing . . . . Mushrooms mean suspicion, and I agree. We should be suspicious of those growing in our yard and not go tasting them if we don't know for sure what they are! Potatoes, on the other hand, mean benevolence, so when you want to communicate with someone that you are there to help them, hand them a potato.
There were 31 listings for different types/colors of Roses, with Yellow being one of the most negative, symbolizing decrease of love or jealousy. However, other sources say it means platonic love, which is nice. Tulips also have different meanings for different colors, with Red representing a declaration of love, but Yellow, alas, hopeless love.
In all, this was a fun read, and caused one to ponder, but not take too seriously. Gosh, if I really loved someone, I'd give them basil and marigolds, 'cause those are two of my favorite plants. It's all how you perceive it, I guess. To end this, here is a poem about Daffodils by William Wordsworth.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden Daffodils:
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle in the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company;
I gazed and gazed, but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought!
For oft when on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude:
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.
Here are some of Kate Greenaway's artworks that are found in the book.
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