The Language of Flowers

By Jayne Alcock, Grounds and Gardens Supervisor at The Walled Gardens of Cannington


Are you struggling to know what message to convey with your choice of flowers this Valentine’s Day? I’m here to make sure that you are sending a message of love to your chosen one, by understanding the ancient language of flowers. 


This ancient art has been observed throughout the world for many centuries. Its roots have been traced back to the court of Constantinople in Ottoman, Turkey. Shakespeare refers to the symbolism of flowers in Hamlet, with Orphelia mentioning violets as representing faithfulness, innocence, humility and chastity! Violets have an added bonus of being edible, so both a thing of beauty, which can raise a smile, as well as providing a delicious addition to a salad!


There was a resurgence of interest in the art of the language of flowers during the Victorian times. Secret messages and feelings could be expressed, so it was important to send the correct flowers or a burgeoning romance may be thwarted, or perhaps escalated too quickly! Ivy can mean fidelity and friendship, but it also has a more permanent meaning - marriage. Dictionaries are available to help potential lovers navigate this possible minefield! For example, be wary of presenting a loved one with a yellow hyacinth, as whilst the scent may be intoxicating, the flower means jealousy. It would have been important that each party had the same dictionary, as regional and cultural variations exist, so there was potential for crossed-wires and unintended consequences! The giving of carnations is an excellent example of why there is a need both for research and caution. They often have a wonderful spicy scent and The Walled Gardens of Cannington grow the species Dianthus gratianopolitanus, which can only be found naturally on Cheddar Gorge and some parts of the Mendip Hills, (which can be found in the Dry Garden). Generally in the UK, they can be said to represent fascination and devoted love, however if you give them to someone from Switzerland you would be seen as cheap!


However, do not fret as there are some safe bets. Most people associate the red rose with sending the message ‘I love you’. The Walled Gardens of Cannington has ‘Deep Secret’, which has a great scent and deep red blooms. However it is advised that a red bloom shouldn’t be given on a first date, as it is an expression of deep love and affection. So it may be too much, too soon!


More recently, The Duchess of Cambridge made use of British-grown plants and native flowers for her wedding, showing an awareness of sustainability issues by using plants that are in season, and supporting British growers at the same time. In fact, living hornbeam trees which signify resilience, and field maples, symbolising humility and reserve, were brought into Westminster Abbey. 


I am not suggesting that you dig up a tree from your garden and bring it into your living room to profess your undying love, however there are an abundance of fresh, bright seasonal flowers for those who want to pick a posy to give to the object of your affection. A bespoke bouquet could be the ideal personalised gift. In The Walled Gardens of Cannington we have:


Japanese quince – symbolising temptation

Snowdrops – joy to come

Hellebore – scandal 

Dwarf daffodils – regard, unrequited love, respect

Early irises – cherished friendship

Pansies – thoughts

Purple heather – admiration, beauty and solitude.


I will leave it to you to decide whether the meaning of these flowers is appropriate for the message that you want to convey. Best of luck!


The Language of Flowers