Flowers for Loved Ones
February is probably the grimmest month in the gardening calendar, with flowers being in scarce supply but there is hope in the air. For many of us, the first sign of spring and the promise of milder weather just around the corner is the sight of a clump of brave Snowdrops poking through the cold earth of a woodland, churchyard or town garden. Later on this month, the early Narcissi start making an appearance in gardens and the winter flowering shrubs, such as the Dahpnes will soon be full of fragrance and colour. However, for Valentine’s day, most of us rely on imported flowers with an estimated fifty million roses given on the 14th of this month.
The rose is of course the traditional Valentine’s Day flower and red is the colour of passion and romance. We must thank the Goddess of love, Venus, for this particular tradition. Legend has it that it was her favourite flower and I certainly wouldn’t disagree.
There’s no doubt in my mind that for scent and colour there’s nothing like a rose, and being a Lancastrian Lass in origin, red has got to be the colour of my choice. White roses symbolise unity, so for a truly romantic touch, red roses with one single white is probably perfection.
The history of giving the love of your life Valentine’s Day flowers comes from the 18th century custom of sending floral bouquets to pass on non-verbal messages. What was an amorous young girl to do in Victorian England, with the chaperone system in operation and no mobile phone available to send secret text messages to her lover? The answer came with the publication of ‘The Language of Flowers,’ or rather ‘La langage des Fleurs’ written by Madame Charlotte de la Tour,’ in her native French, it soon became popularised in England and other floral dictionaries followed.
In a culture where the sexes could not speak freely to each other, it was quite simply left up to flowers to do the talking, in English, as opposed to the possibly rather sexier French. The code worked by the giving or receiving of a posy or single flower. The recipient answered ‘yes’ by touching the flower with her lips and ‘no’ by subtly pulling off a petal. There’s something so much more romantic and discreet about this than simply changing your relationship status on Facebook.
Many dictionaries with meanings of different flowers were published in during the heyday of the floral code in the nineteenth century and the language of flowers became incredibly extensive, not dying out until world war two. Some poplar flowers had a simple and clear cut meaning. A double Rose meant love, a white Lily signified purity and sweet Violets denoted modesty. Tulips too were a declaration of love, but not all flowers carried messages of love, respect or kindness. Nacissi accused the recipient of conceit, Hydrangeas meant boasting and Foxgloves insincerity. You could be dumped by a bunch of flowers!
The language was complex and often confusing as not all dictionaries agreed over the interpretation of a particular flower. ‘A Rose is a Rose’ certainly didn’t apply – a sweet briar meant ‘I wound to heal,’ a Musk Rose, ‘capricious beauty’ and a Moss Rose ‘voluptuousness.’
February Roses in Victorian England would have been in short supply but these days we import our roses from hotter climes, such as Kenya. With demand now constantly outstripping supply, the price of a Valentine’s Day Rose is often three or four times the standard cost. Astoundingly, the production line is now so efficient that flowers picked in the early morning in Kenya, can be sold at Europe’s flower auctions the same day so there’s no excuse for giving the love of your life a dried up half dead looking specimen from the local garage, chaps. I’m afraid that old trick carries charged symbols of its own.
When rushing out to buy your loved one the imported red and white roses please note that to convey a special meaning, there is more than just the colour to consider carefully. The number of roses also plays an important role in the message, and the number most commonly associated with roses is one dozen.
Can a single red rose convey much the same meaning as a dozen? Well yes, but it can also give your loved one the impression that you’re broke, which is possibly not quite the symbolism you were striving to achieve.