When I’m writing I try very hard not to read or watch anything that might influence my story. As an author I know how deceptively easy it can be to accidentally or subconsciously have a theme, twist of events or an intriguing scene or story trope insidiously find it’s way into your own creation. So I’ve been avoiding that hazard like the plague. Yet something wonderful happened over this Thanksgiving weekend.
My bestie gave me a beautiful book to read by Vanessa Diffenbaugh captivatingly entitled The Language of Flowers. Maybe I accepted the book she borrowed from our Vancouver Public Library because it’s Teen Read Week and I’m still a teenager at heart. Or maybe it was the feel of the pages in my hands and her love and enthusiasm for the story. Maybe it’s because lately my mind has been feeling a little overly romantic with the beauty of fall and the wonder of new things. Or maybe it’s because once upon a time I too was fascinated with the secret and foregone language of flowers; its beauty, its romanticism, its gentleness and steadfast qualities perfect for the yearnings of an earnest heart. Or maybe it’s just time and a combination of all the above. Whatever it was, I have been enraptured with the book. It is beautiful and poignant and uncomfortable all at once and I’m so thoroughly enjoying it that I will definitely be adding it to my own physical bookshelf.
Now I knew that in Victorian times one had to be very careful with the types of flowers they gave to someone they admired or were courting. But in truth for thousands of years flowers have had a language all their own. Over the years my memory of individual meanings and messages of blooms were lost to time and age, but with the reading of The Language of Flowers, I have become thrillingly reacquainted with some of the symbolic meanings I knew from before and some pretty cool new ones. I don’t want to give you any spoilers, especially if you want to read the book, which I do recommend, but here are some of my favorites.
Acacia – secret love
Daffodil – new beginnings
Wisteria – welcome
Rosemary – commitment
Daisy – innocence (and secretly my favorite flower)
Mistletoe – I surmount all obstacles (*sigh*)
Camellia – my destiny is in your hands (*double sigh*)
A surprising one for me was the meaning of Lavender — which I absolutely love and have the essential oil on me at all times — with its jarring meaning of mistrust. Yellow roses mean jealousy and infidelity. And here I was thinking they meant friendship! Ha! I won’t be giving those to anyone anytime soon.
Reading this story made me rethink one of my favorite scenes in the epic movie Braveheart. We’ve all seen Murron give William Wallace a gift of thistle. It is such a poignant moment of sweet innocent beauty in the movie and one that many of us won’t ever forget. It is definitely one of my favorite all time movie scenes. However, if you go by the book, a gift of thistle is a big whopping message of misanthropy, or more commonly known as “I hate you”. I highly doubt that is what little Murron meant when she gave little sad William the soft purple flower. And I know that’s not what Braveheart thought about whenever he looked at that flower he had lovingly saved for a million years. Or when he gave it back to her…oh, I can’t. I bet neither you nor I were thinking about hatred or general mistrust of humankind when we watched that moment. So maybe flower speak isn’t as restricted and immutable as it appears. Maybe its intractable nature is why it’s a bit of a lost art. Maybe at the end of the day it’s about how certain flowers make us feel when we look at them, smell them, or gift them? Maybe it’s not about some stubborn meaning in an obscure dictionary?
Take Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin for instance. I swear he invented blue roses (though I know he didn’t!). Did they hold some special and sacred meaning for him when he wrote them into his epic fantasy story of Westeros? Now they have iconic status and are an enduring emblem of Rhaegar Targaryen’s and Lyanna Stark’s mythic love and romance. Lyanna’s blue roses and the Tower of Joy in Dorne. Simply unforgettable.
The White Poplar tree also has a meaning. It means time, which when given romantically is really quite sweet and thoughtful. Not too long ago as a meaningful gift I was given a little tree — a beautiful Pachira Braid, also known as a Money Tree — which has great significance for prosperity and abundance in Feng Shui. It reminded me of the gift of mistletoe.
And let’s not forget maybe the most famous flower of all. The red rose, a symbol of true love and the symbol of hope in the timeless fairytale, and my favorite childhood story, Beauty and the Beast.
In my own writing I use symbols a lot and throughout my stories I always use symbolic imagery and meanings attached to ideas, themes, emotions, actions, people, and things. I like the way it feels, to represent deeper meanings in this way. So now that I have been reminded of the beautiful and oftimes mysterious language of flowers, I will most likely make a point of using it in my own writing once more. In a short story I once wrote but never published, I had a strange fascination with rhododendron bushes. Where I lived seemed to explode with them, and sure enough they made their way into my story. Did I somehow mysteriously know, somewhere in the DNA of my human collective memory, that they meant beware? Whether I did or not the symbolic meaning of the flowers was very fitting for the story.
So tell me, have you ever given a bouquet of flowers or a single bloom with the express purpose of sending a message? Who was it for? Why did you do it? And most importantly did the receiver of your fragrant offering understand it? Did they reciprocate? And now that you have read this, will you endeavour to give the object of your affection a symbolic message cloaked in the beauty of soft petals?