Plants - Perennials

The language of flowers

Judith Adam
Photography by
Roger Yip

Take a note from the Victorians and plant a secret message in your bouquets

There is a tussie-mussie for every occasion, such as an engagement or a bridal shower: pink rose (romance), ivy (wedded love), violet (faithfulness), apple mint (virtue).

Select stems that are 20 to 25 centimetres long. Remove their lower foliage and stand them in a jar of tepid water. If one flower is central to the message (such as a pink rose, meaning romance), place it prominently in the middle of the bouquet. If the central message is represented by a small blossom, such as a violet, you may use a cluster of several violets. Surround the central flower (or cluster of flowers) with blossoms or leaves representing additional sentiments. Bind each layer of flowers encircling the centre with raffia. Small tussie-mussies may be bound only once, or each time the bouquet is encircled with additional flowers. Cut all the stems off evenly at the same length. For a traditional finish, use a paper lace doily to make a frill or holder for the tussie-mussie, pulling stems through. Keep the tussie-mussie fresh by standing it in a small vase filled with water.

Perhaps it's time to revive the Victorian language of flowers as a lovely device-far more pleasant than e-mail-for communicating 21st-century sentiments. The best flower messages are composed in direct and emphatic terms to deliver high voltage statements of truth, love, joy and sometimes criticism or rejection. Although a beautiful bouquet is always desirable, the message is foremost. You can plant entire messages right in your garden beds, or at least grow the flowers that compose them to make up your own meaningful bouquets. Here are some fanciful combinations to get you started.

From a bride to her betrothed
My love is ardent; anxious and trembling; and full with the heart's mystery. Annual rose balsam (Impatiens balsamina); red columbine (Aquilegia canadense, Zone 4); and crimson polyanthus (Primula Polyanthus Group, Zone 5).

From a cuckolded husband
Your cold heart conceals dangerous pleasures and deceitful charms; justice shall be done to you. Lettuce leaves; tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa); thorn apple (Datura stramonium).

From an older gentleman to the younger object of his desire
Do not think me foolish; I offer generous and devoted affection; but our love must be chaste and platonic. Pomegranate (Punica granatum, Zone 7); French honeysuckle (Hedysarum coronarium, Zone 4); rose acacia (Robinia hispida, Zone 6).

From a constituent to a politician
Deliver your promises; do not abuse power; be incorruptible. Plum (Prunus spp., Zone 5); crocus (Crocus spp.); cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani, Zone 7).

From a mother to a child
My affection and pleasure are everlasting; you are purity and sweetness; thou art all that is lovely. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa, Zone 4); perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolia, Zone 4); white lily (Lilium spp.); Austrian briar (Rosa foetida, Zone 4).

From a business manager to a self-indulgent film star
Impatient resolves lead to poverty; be prudent; avoid indiscretion; or lament at leisure. Rose balsam (Impatiens balsamina); Armandii clematis (C. armandii, Zone 7); mountain ash (Sorbus spp., Zone 3); aspen (Populus spp.).

Flowers, the Angels' Alphabet: The Language and Poetry of Flowers, by Susan Loy, CSL Press (2001).

Flower Fairies: The Meaning of Flowers, by Cicely Mary Barker,
Penguin Books (1996).

Tussie Mussies: The Language of Flowers, by Geraldine Adamich
LauferWorkman Publishing Co. (2000).

Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway, Dover Publications (1993).

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