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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: The language of flowers


Happy Valentine’s – is there a message in that bouquet just delivered? Does your significant other know the language of flowers or was the arrangement the choice of the florist?

In days past, Victorian times, flowers were used as messengers, each having its own connotation, its own trailing lore. In the mid-1800s a bouquet of tulips and lilacs said, “I really love you,” and wrapped with ferns to add, “We fit well together.”

Bachelor’s buttons and chamomile are for cheerleading, recognition that times have been hard, some sprigs of lavender as acknowledgment of the struggle, dogwood in honor of your durability and some phlox to say, “I have your back.” Chrysanthemum and coreopsis are all about being cheerful, accented with ivy, which establishes you as a friend. The presence of zinnias says you are going away.

Daisies recognize your innocence and combining with irises indicates the sender has a message for you. If it is roses, your beauty is on your admirer’s mind and the lilies in the bouquet say your purity and modesty are obvious. A gift of Angelica with carnations, lavender and meadowsweet offers healing energy; the addition of yarrow vows that “You alone can cure.” The Angelica also adds an element of inspiration and the addition of lily-of-the-valley presages your return to happiness.

Yarrow (achillea) can be found in the witch’s garden as a plant that had the power to invite in the devil or send him away and in a bouquet empowers one. The gift of foxglove (digitalis) also called witch’s gloves or dead man’s bells, says the sender expects you to do well in your endeavor and may throw in a little fennel for strength and ferns for balance.

A huge bouquet of peonies says just what it seems: The sender is somewhat ostentatious but you can’t help but love the showiness of the gift. On the other hand the elegance of dahlias brings in dignity and reserve.

Verbena (vervain) stands for sensibility but in a witch’s garden it is called the “Herb of Grace” according to Robert M. Coughlin in “A Gardener’s Companion,” adding it can be used to repel snakes and bring good luck. The addition of snapdragons and yarrow brings the energy of protection and a little meadowsweet can add love.

I have found while helping people design their gardens that individuals have serious preferences for plants and colors in a gardenscape probably relating to gut feelings rather than conscious decisions. When you choose your garden plants notice what shape and colors appeal as well as kind of plant, there may be a message in your choices.

If you are actively designing your garden, go to spring flower shows and make a note of what you like and what makes you feel good. This is the perfect time of year to research plant options, look at some pictures and decide what look appeals to you. Some people want a sense of control and tidiness in their environment; others prefer the relative chaos of an English border garden or something in between. Personally the older I get the less order prevails in my own environment.

The most important thing is to have fun.

Happy Valentine’s Day.