July 1, 2013

{The Language of Flowers}

Dear Bride-to-Be:
I thought you'd enjoy this reprint of my article, The Language of Flowers, published in the summer issue of SEASON magazine.

Bridal folklore throughout history, inspired by goddess mythology, tells of maidens entwining creamy white, aromatic orange blossoms into a bridal wreath for their hair, to ensure fertility; or carrying a bunch of sweet smelling white lilacs, representing innocence; or tucking fragrant herbs into their bouquets, rosemary for remembrance and dill, believed to provoke lust. (Both herbs were also eaten for their supposed powers!)
Along came the French, picking up where the ancient Persians left off by assigning meanings to flowers and herbs, and in 1819 published Le Langage des Fleurs. The etiquette-driven Victorians, as passionate as they were sentimental about flowers, followed suit. With so many rules and restrictions about what was proper to say to whom—and outright flirtations certainly prohibited—they adopted the romance-filled language of flowers, creating their own dictionary-like books, lyrically illustrated, to help sort it all out.
This romantic language was perfect for weddings. Many brides, including royal ones, get a bit sentimental when it comes to their wedding bouquet. Queen Victoria carried a nosegay of snowdrops, representing friendship (they were her beloved Albert’s favorite flower); and Grace Kelly, after much thought, selected lilies of the valley as her simple wedding bouquet, meaning return of happiness. And of course Kate Middleton included blooms of Sweet William, signifying gallantry.
During the golden-age of movies, whatever the royalty-like brides of old Hollywood loved, the rest of America did as well—and they loved orchids! Especially huge, lush cattleya varieties that, if truth be told, were overtly sexual. Although a “language of flowers” book might say the orchid represents beauty and refinement, Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, called it “the sexiest flower on the planet.” So no matter what some whimsical Victorian floriography says (or what post-war brides and their mothers pretended), an orchid’s real language was passionate, sensual, even erotic.

Yet, ironically, as was the fashion, a large opulent orchid sat on top of a bride’s small, white bible; or was attached innocently to her fur or satin muff; or worn as an oversized wedding corsage. Orchids were also popular in the center of big, boisterous bridal bouquets, like eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor carried for her first wedding in 1950, right before the premiere of Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracey. (She didn’t carry orchids in all of her eight weddings, but Goddess Liz knew her way ‘round passion so she included them often!)                        
Needless to say, the language of flowers could be confusing: their “meanings” changed because of fashion or locale or color; or with what other blossom it was combined. No wonder tussie-mussies and nosegays—a style of mixing specific herbs and flowers—became so popular in the Victorian era (and were forerunners of the modern bridal bouquet.) Since these “talking bouquets” said the sweet-nothings for you, gentlemen suitors carefully chose their flower combinations, assuring the appropriate message be delivered to their sweetheart. (Plus one did not want the nosegay intended for tonight’s dinner hostess mixed up with last night’s paramour, etcetera.)
However, if your flower choices for a wedding bouquet don’t match up as you’d like with the messages in a Language of Flowers book, then just assign them your own romantic meanings and I’m certain the flower goddesses will bless you! ~
[This is a reprint of my article published in the summer issue of SEASON magazine. See page 74.]

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