Courtship and the meaning of flowers.


Sequim is a lavender besotted, co-dependant sort-of love town. I however, hate the stinky little bush and for the moment my garden like drug free gardens remains posted as being Lavender-free.

To old ladies Lavender is meant to be buried in soaps, or in sachets to freshen the toilet. Is that romantic? Would you give your date a bouquet of lavender? No you'd give her roses, lilies, carnations or if really creative and ambitious minded, poker plants. Eremurus, Proteus or Kangaroo paws would be good too.

I happen to live in Sequim, WA. which well has frankly gone overboard on the subject of lavender. I can hardly walk by one garden and not see this gratuitous over planting of you guessed it, lavender. Heck, Sequim nurserymen even have sold the plant under false pretenses. One poor lady I know (a great cook by the way) could never get her spaghetti to taste right. Finally I had to tell her, she had been using lavender instead of rosemary or sage. This had gone on for years, and everyone else had been too polite to tell her.

That Sequim S.O.B sold her lavender for rosemary. Now I know I should have let those Ostriches loose when the lavender devotees, like Druids at Stonehenge, gathered in the total shut down of Main Street, to have their pictures taken. Like lemmings to the sea, they were celebrating the new bypass of our town. Hard to believe isn't it!

Back to my favorite flower.
Dianthus have been famous since classical times. The Greeks and Romans admired them for their beauty as well as for their scent. Pictographs on ancient cave dwellings in France bear a great likeness to the Dianthus. Even the word, 'Dianthi' doesn't that sound elevated, whereas calling your lovely, 'Lavandula' sounds like some tool to scour out the toilet. "Honey, would you get the Lavandula and ... well you can fill in the rest.

I am asking readers to vote for their most fragrant plant. Not to rig the voting, but did you know that giving a person a bouquet of Lavender is a message of DISTRUST.

It’s high time we learned to speak with flowers again, there’s more to it than knowing a red rose stands for true love, just that most Americans see that delivered on Valentines day. Other than that they are totally clueless.

As for my Dianthus – well I have to go to Carnation, the giving of Carnations is a declaration of LOVE and FASCINATION in the other.

As for those damned dye jobs, they mean this: Blue Carnation --“spectacular dye job”, Green – “I am drunk and Irish, but I love you”, Yellow – “my urologist just checked me over, and everything still works and best of all I have no S.T.D’s Dianthus are a declaration of AFFECTION.

Being the MASTER come hither-er that I am. I always managed to produce great bouquets. Was it my fault that on my last frozen romance, the Airlines hadn’t fed her. Upon landing she damn near ate the red roses. Tom Lehrer had a song about that.

My greatest accomplishment was a bouquet made of Iris (I burn for you), tuberous (sensual pleasures), poker plant (I’m bragging), red anemones (hot-blooded), freesia (allure) and alstroemeria (you are cleared for landing, fennel root (for strength.)

Throwing in some fruit’s completes the message of bounty and generosity. I added a few bananas, red chili peppers and a mango. Em, my grocer’s florist was so taken by my project, that she helped me get the ingredients. She was impressed, so were the stewardess's at the airport. I had two saucy invitations, “if she doesn’t respond, come back here.” God, that 1993 was some hot year.

(And by the way gals, I’m not looking – just enjoying the flow, but I do now realize the difficulty of long distance relationships.)

I never did get a “Buzz Off and Die” bouquet, she was far too polite to do that. I of course would not have had that problem, Allium or Chives (your breath smells), basil (Hatred) , Ice plant (cold), paper-whites (your feet stink), purple anemones (I can’t stand your jealousy), white roses (silence --shut up). garlic (drive a stake in your heart and die), and if your really evil include some rue (disdain) as well as your hope for their getting dermatitis.

Brides would carry flowers back to Babylonian times. Items such as garlic, and chives and other small smelling herbs would drive away evil spirits. They also helped in medieval times to ward of the plague.
The Romans took this to the extreme with their floral garlands. It didn’t help Caesar though, and another poor philosopher was taken out by the swallowing of the Yew. Life was much different then. Once in a while I even wear a garland myself. It usually gets me through the check stand counters more quickly.

The English took it to the extreme. Living those wretched Victorian lives, one had to cheat and illicit lovers would exchange flowers much as we use Hallmark today. I like that idea and have done the same. Somehow an agreed upon lexicon of meanings were given with each flower having its own meaning. I sometimes wonder how that came about? Nonetheless, many of these flower associations are still used in the making of Bridal arrangements. If you expect your grocer florist to know them you are mistaken … and bad choosing may actually doom the marriage. So go to your florist with your list of pretties and ask them if they have any meanings, associations. It they look at you blankly, quickly move on.

Aloe –Affliction, grief, bitterness (makes sense)
Amaranth – unfading love
Amaryllis – pride, haughtiness
Artemisia -- Absence
Apple Blossom - Better things to come
Basil – Hatred (I never understood that one
Camellia - Gratitude Candytuft – Indifference
Carnation - Fascination and love
Centranthus – Support, readiness
Chamomile – Energy in adversity
Chrysanthemum - Red - I love you
Chrysanthemum - White - Truth
Columbine – Folly Cyclamen - Modesty and shyness (I am such a cyclamen)
Dahlia – My gratitude exceeds your care
Daffodil - Regard
Daisy – Innocence
Dittany of Crete – Birth
Fennel – Strength (Totally understood, I love Italian cooking!)
Fern - Fascination and sincerity ( I think ferns are shifty and skulkers)s
Flowering Almond - Hope
Forget-me-not - True love and remembrance (I forgot what this means)
Foxglove – Insincerity (They are also the summer homes of elves)
Geranium (scented) – Cheer up
Geranium Red – Stupidity
Heliotrope - Devotion and faithfulness (Greek followers of the sun?)
Heather – Good luck.
Holly – Am I forgotten?
Honeysuckle – Generosity
Honesty plant – Honesty (Go figure!)
Horehound – Fire
Hyacinth - Loveliness
Hydrangea - Boastfulness
Ice Plant – Cold, Your looks freeze me
Impatiens – Touch me not, (another good “kiss off” flower”.)
Iris - Warmth of affection (check out my Iris article)
Ivy - Eternal fidelity (until you get strangled to death)
Japonica - Loveliness
Jasmine - Amiability
Lavender – Distrust
Larkspur == protects against "Illusion"
Laurel – Glory
Lemon Blossom - Fidelity in love
Lilac (white) - Youthful innocence
Lily - Majesty
Lily-of-the-valley - Return of happiness
Love-in-a-mist - Perplexity (another one based on the language usage)
Magnolia - Perseverance
Maidenhair - Discretion
Marigold – Pain, remorse
Mimosa - Sensitivity
Mint – Cordiality
Mistletoe -- Aside from lip locking in this century, in Medieval days it represented, truce/armistice even amongst enemies.
Nasturtium – Patriotism (WHY?
Orange Blossom - Purity and virginity (not nearly as useful a flower as it used to be)
Parsley – Banquet (makes sense, so often used in cooking.)
Peach Blossom – Captive
Peony – Shame (This one I am curious about?)
Pinks – Affection
Rose (red) - Love and Beauty
Rose (yellow) - Friendship , and sometimes diminishing love, if hubbie gives you this, be concerned.
Rose (coral) – Desire
Rose (peach) - Modesty
Rose (dark pink) - Thankfulness
Rose (pale pink) - Grace
Rose (orange) - Fascination
Rose (white) - Innocence and Silence
Rosebud – Confession of love, (This is a wimps timid entry into the dance of love-romance
Rosemary - Remembrance and Appreciation
Rue – Disdain (You can also get quite a painful rash from the sucker)
Sage – Esteem
Sea Lavender – Dauntlessness
Snowdrop - Hope and Consolation
Spiderwort – Esteem, but not love (another bad present to bring to your wife)
Sweet Pea - Delicate pleasures
Tansy – a declaration against someone,. (Especially good in the following Thistle bouquets
Thistle- Retaliation (The tansy thistle bouquet is a nice color combination)
Thyme – Activity
Tulip - Love and Fame
Tulip – Red – Passion
Tulip – Yellow – hopeless love
Valerian – Accommodating disposition – (A good suck choice for your teacher)
Verbena – Enchantment
Veronica - Fidelity
Violet - Faithfulness
Yarrow – WAR (Always nice when used in the Thistle, tansy bouquet)l
Yew – Sadness (You bet, especially if it can kill you!)

So armed you can build your own creative bouquet. The one for come hither and be conquered, or the cautious one, encouraging trust, safety and friendship. I have constructed both and I dare say that some of my constructions were as good as any florists.

We now have so many new plants to consider. The Mahonia, Salal, Gladiolius tristus and so many others including new Chilean and South African plants. Throw in the wonderful array of Australian plants and we need to begin adding a more modern lexicon for bouquet’s to die for.

My own Chilean Ugni might be a beginning. It would be used as would Salal as a filler.
Please add your own plant commentary edits to these descriptions and post --
Your own additions to what should be in modern flower bouquets and why.
Commentaries on some of these old interpretations. Should they be updated?
Finally vote for your own favorite flower in a bouquet and WHY!

© 2003 Herb Senft