Attributing flowers with hidden meanings and using them to express feelings and sending messages is an ancient tradition and even the old Greeks used flowers in this manner. Cleopatra used to shower her lover Marcus Antonius in rose petals to express her love for him. During the 17th century B.C. the Turks developed a large flower language that soon spread and gained popularity all over Europe. During the strict Victorian era, conveying messages in the form of flowers experienced a new boom and secret lovers sent seemingly innocent flower bouquets to each other.
The Elizabethan period is usually considered as the height of the Victoria era and one of the harshest periods from a moral point of view. This naturally formed a rich breeding ground for hypocrisy and ways to go around the austere official codes of behavior – especially for the upper and middle classes. It was also a period when the romantic love was highly sought for and the flower language contains both these components; romantic gestures and the idea of true love conquering any obstacles and strict rules.
During the Victorian era several different flower dictionaries were published that helped to spread the knowledge of the ‘secret’ flower language. It was common to fabricate poetical explanations to the shapes and colors of flowers. One popular myth claimed that the red rose came into existence when a white rose blushed in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve’s ate the apple. Virtually any type of message could be transformed into a beautiful flower bouquet since a whole sentence could be conveyed in a single flower.
Since several different flowers could have almost the same meaning, it was usually not hard to construct a good looking bouquet with matching flowers for each message. The flower language even had a type of basic “grammar” since messages could be altered depending on how the flowers where arranged and combined. A red rose combined with white rose buds would for instance mean a different thing than a single red blooming rose. Scents, sizes and even the position of the giver when bouquets were delivered directly would affect the message. The receiver could also take the opportunity to send secret messages to the giver. Accepting a flower or floral bouquet with the right hand was generally perceived as a “Yes” while the left hand indicated “No”. A flower held upside down when presented would literary turn the message upside down and the message should be interpreted as the total opposite of the normal meaning of the flower. Giving a lady or gentlemen a red rose that had been turned upside down was a very strong sing of rejection.
Flowers has always been used to decorate rooms and to mark important occasions, but during the Victorian era the natural world became highly fashionable since it was linked to the new romanticisms, a reaction to the scientific ideals of the 16th century. Floral arrangements was frequently enfolded in satin and received as wrapped gifts. Every room should ideally be decorated with flowers and the Victorian women devoted their time to the construction of highly sophisticated and very beautiful floral arrangements. The flower language was not only used in bouquets sent to lovers; the flower language would affect everything from centerpieces to wedding bouquets. Understanding the floral language became and imperative part of Victorian life.