What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens – The Language of Flowers

What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens – The Language of Flowers
By Melanie Priesnitz

Gifting plants and flowers has long been a tradition for a myriad of occasions. We give bouquets and potted plants in times of joy and sorrow, for celebration, and for commiseration. My favourite bouquets are the ones that hold special meaning. They are the ones collected by my partner who arrives home late and muddy because he stopped on the side of the road and fell in the ditch to reach the roadside daisies that he knows I love. They are the ones gathered in the cemetery by my girls on their way up the hill. These bouquets may look like ‘weeds’ to some but to me they are the best and most sincere gifts of love.

When choosing gifts, I believe the intention and meaning behind the gift is greater than the gift itself. There is an entire Language of Flowers that defines intentions behind the selection of specific plants as gifts. The Language of Flowers or Floriology was formalized during the 1800s when several dictionaries were written to document the meaning behind flowers.

These books were based on folklore and traditions from a variety of cultures. This cryptological communication was fitting for the Victorian era when many topics were considered taboo to speak out loud. Your true emotions could be expressed covertly by sending a carefully chosen bouquet that the recipient would have to decrypt. Some of the symbolism from the old texts has carried through into modern floral traditions and some has shifted with time. The gift of red roses still symbolizes love. The meaning behind yellow roses today is simply friendship where historically the gift of yellow roses could hold a variety of inferences including decrease of love, infidelity, jealousy, joy, and friendship. With these contradicting connotations you can imagine the anxiety that may have arisen over trying to decode a nosegay given by a suitor.

Whether you’re giving flowers or socks, stop and take the time to think about the intention behind your gift and remember to do your research before blindly giving. Imagine the awkwardness of gifting your boss with a bouquet containing orange lilies, crane’s bill, and spider flowers. The message you would be sending is hatred mixed with envy and a sprig of elope with me!

Remember this holiday season that the most treasured gifts are the homemade and hand-gathered gifts given with love and meaning.

Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens
Acadia University