The Meaning of Flowers

When choosing the flowers for a wedding, I wonder just how many people think about whether there is a hidden meaning behind their choice?

When choosing the flowers for a wedding, I wonder just how many people think about whether there is a hidden meaning behind their choice?  In general, I would hazard a guess that most couples decide more on colour, style and simply what they like, rather than anything else, which seems pretty sensible to me.

However, going back into history, certain flowers have acquired different meanings, and there have always been some fairly well known ones like Forget-Me-Not which as its name suggests means ‘forget me not’, ‘memories’ and ‘true love’.  Who would know, however, that the different colour of a roses could indicate completely different meanings – certainly not me until recently, where I found a list stating that a red rose represented ‘passion and love’, but yellow meant ‘infidelity and jealousy’!

Of course I should sound a distinct note of caution here, because although the symbolic meaning of some flowers remains pretty constant, there are many that can vary hugely depending on which particular book or list you’re reading at the time.

It seems that every type of honey suckle is lovely but more surprisingly (and thankfully as it was the ‘flower’ of choice for our daughter), ivy represents ‘affection, friendship, fidelity and wedded love’. Orange blossom also has the perfect connotations for a wedding, meaning ‘eternal love, innocence, marriage and fruitfulness’!

As you might expect from its tiny but beautiful presence, violets are symbols of ‘love and faithfulness’, whereas gladioli with all their brash display are meant to mean ‘love at first sight’.  And it seems that the right gift of flowers between VERY close friends would be tulips, as they are supposed to mean ‘perfect lover’.  Whether this is meant to indicate the giver or receiver is anyone’s guess!

Perfect for all those early spring weddings would be daffodils, which seem to have multiple meanings, from “the sun is bright when I’m with you, to ‘respect, unrequited love and regard’.  However, there might be a few that you choose to avoid, as apparently Flax is a symbol of ‘domesticity’, geraniums indicate ‘folly or stupidity’, and Rhododendron  mean “I am dangerous – beware”!

We have planted a number of wisterias both in our own garden and a beautiful white one on the Clock House at the Barn.  I planted them because I love them, but I’m delighted to discover from this reading that they mean ‘welcome’.

All this research started on the basis of one particular flower that I love and which pops up reliably through the gravel year after year, namely Lily of the Valley.  I adore its simple beauty and powerful, easily recognised fragrance which seems to fill the air as you walk by.  This flower, does however hold a very particular and poignant part in our family history, and is another reason I hold it so dear.

On this day in 1945, my mother, her older sisters Ann and Prudence, along with Pru’s boyfriend, took a canoe down to the beach at Clymping in West Sussex.  England was still at war, and Mum, although only 13, remembers feeling a little guilty to be having such an outing using rationed fuel.

Prudence and her boyfriend took the canoe out on the water leaving the others on the beach.  They never returned.  It was the eve of Pru’s 18th birthday, and in her room, they found the ring she was planning to wear following the announcement of their secret engagement the next day.

The unbearable sadness of such a thing happening is very hard to imagine and unsurprisingly, it is not something that has been talked about very much over the years, although I do hope to tell their story properly one day.

And the Lily of the Valley?  Sadly, unlike her boyfriend, Prudence was never found, and on her birthday the next day, and for all the time the flowers bloomed in their garden, her mother made sure there was a little pot of lily of the valley in Pru’s room to fill it with their special fragrance, just in case she returned.

Even writing this has nearly brought me to tears, so I will finish on a much more positive note.  Just bursting into their true glory, the trees in our cider orchards will soon be laden with apple blossom, which in our lexicon of flower meanings indicates ‘good fortune’ and ‘a harbinger of better things’.  I’ll take that.

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