December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, the day Americans honor the plant that has become a symbol of the holiday season. And while not everyone’s a fan, it’s hard not to marvel at the species’ growing popularity. Continue reading →
Different flowers and flower colors carry different shades of meaning
Studies show that mastering a foreign language can not only boost your brain power but also provide you with insight on how the world thinks. Unfortunately, not everyone can learn with the same facility. But there’s one second language we all know how to speak fluently, albeit with slight variations. Colorful and often emotional, it’s called the Language of Flowers.
THE VICTORIAN LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS
Back in Victorian times, people knew how to ‘say it with flowers.’ The 1800s were a buttoned-up era, with many taboos against expressing emotions. To get around the rules, people borrowed from an ancient language to convey their feelings. They used flowers and floral arrangements as coded messages.
Mother’s Day card circa 1890
Sometimes referred to as floriography, the Language of Flowers can be traced back to ancient times. This includes the Hebrew Bible, where plants and flowers often figure as symbols. The Song of Songs is one such example:
I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. 2.As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. 3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. Song of Songs 2:1-3
Apple tree blossoms
THE TULIP’S TURKISH ROOTS
However, the practice of floriography most likely had its roots in Turkey, where in the 16th century, the Court in Constantinople was said to have an obsession with tulips. Following their discovery in the mountains, many powerful people started cultivating the cup-shaped flowers in their gardens.
Tulips were an obsession in the Court of Constantinople
Eventually, as Ottoman sultans began wearing tulips in their turbans, they became symbolic of wealth and power. Not surprisingly, the flower’s name is believed to derive from the Persian word tulipan, meaning turban, with which it shares an uncanny resemblance.
The word tulip comes from the Persian tulipan, meaning turban
TULIPS IN THE HAREM
In the Western World, we have Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to thank for introducing the language of flowers to Britain. In 1716, she accompanied her husband to Turkey where he was stationed as ambassador. Montagu’s letters back to England often contained references to the Turkish use of floral symbols. This included a reported custom of using flowers to send secret messages in the harem.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
THE FIRST FLORAL DICTIONARY
It wasn’t until Queen Victoria ascended the throne in the next century, however, that Montagu’s efforts to promote floriography were finally embraced. Seemingly overnight, books about flower symbolism began to be published. Many of these works continue to form the basis of the floral language we practice today.
The first dictionary to associate flowers with symbolic definitions appeared in 1819 with the publishing of Le Langage des Fleurs, a work attributed to Charlotte de la Tour. The author’s true identity remained a mystery for several years until it was revealed to be Louise Cortambert, wife of the geographer Euguen Cortambert (1805-1881). She would have been in her late thirties at the time.
1920 edition of Charlotte de la Tour’s Le Langage des Fleurs
Organized by season, Le Langage de Fleurs contained illustrations and essays on different plants along with their associated meaning. There were 330 different types of emotions. Listed in alphabetical order, they ranged from messages of love, acceptance and refusal to more specific feelings or psychological states such as Render Me Justice, My Regrets Accompany You to the Grave and the catchy Better to Die than Lose One’s Innocence. The book can still be purchased on Amazon today.
COMMON FLOWERS AND THEIR MEANINGS
So what are some common flowers that we Americans know how to read? Maybe some of these generally accepted meanings will jar your memory.
Remember putting a buttercup under your chin and asking your friend if it gave a yellow glow? If a yellow reflection can be seen, a person is supposed to love butter.
Buttercups can tell if you like butter
Or did you ever pluck off the petals of a daisy one by one while alternately repeating the phrases She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not? A game of French origin, this practice can determine if the object of your affection returns those feelings.
Reading the daisy can tell you whether or not your affections are returned
Emerging from the cold ground in early spring, daffodils are the quintessential symbol of spring and rebirth. In the language of flowers, they can also mean Regards, while some dictionaries associate them with Chivalry. Other interpretations link daffodils with self-esteem, and the Greek legend of Narcissus suggests the flowers could also represent egotism and vanity.
Daffodils symbolize spring and also regards
Forget-me-nots’ meaning is implied in the name. The true blue flower whose Greek name myosotis means mouse ear, is commonly associated with constancy and friendship.
Forget-me-nots symbolize friendship and constancy
Often flower meaning derives from the behavior of the plants itself. For instance, Mimosa pudica is often linked to sensitivity or chastity, as its leaves fold up when touched by another organism.
Mimosa pudica symbolizes sensitivity
Even within the same species, colors can mean different things. In paintings, a deep red rose has been used for centuries to symbolize the blood of Christ, while also expressing the intensity of romantic love.
A red rose is associated with strong feelings of love
While pink roses express affection.
Pink roses represent affection
And yellow roses stand for friendship or devotion.
A yellow rose signifies friendship
Overachievers may like to emulate Felix in Honoré de Balzac’s The Lily of the Valley and compose elaborate bouquets built upon multiple meanings. In the novel, he uses flower arrangements to convey coded messages that only his lover can decipher. This took some advanced study, however, with Felix spending days in the countryside meditating on the essence of each flower.
Regardless of your flower knowledge, the list is as long as there are flower species. And though meanings may vary across cultures, the roots of this ancient custom remain the same. Some feelings are just better expressed when spoken in the Language of Flowers.
The Bamboo Garden at Northern California’s Foothill College
I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of bamboo, especially the kind that advances a foot a day and needs to be dug out with a tractor. But I was pleasantly surprised this week to have my views suddenly upended. It all started with some aqua stems I spied growing in my sister-in-law’s garden. Continue reading →
Without some advance planning, fall often spells the end of the show in the garden. But I’ve learned from experience that if you plant dahlias in late spring, they’ll flower through autumn like it’s summer. Lately, I’ve been waking up to crisp mornings only to discover more and more blooms. Who knew October could bring so many fresh flowers?
DAHLIAS BRING OUT THE CHILD
In the casual opinion of most, dahlias may not be all that big a deal. But for me, the first time I saw the majestic, 10-foot flowers left an indelible memory. It was the 1960s, and I was a kid growing up in Delaware. Smack dab in the middle of suburbia, on the corner of two heavily-traveled streets, there was a small working farm. In the summer it produced fruits and vegetables. But in September, it transformed into a sea of dahlias.
And these weren’t your everyday dahlias, mind you. Many were the gigantic, dinner plate size; the kind that drives a kid mad with desire to jump out of the car just to be among them. Standing as tall as adults, they gently swayed in the breeze. I liked to imagine they tilted their heads in salute each time we drove by.
Craning my neck out the window, I’d watch until they gradually disappeared around the corner, dissolving one by one into a sea of rainbow colors.
And thus began my love affair with these beautiful flowers.
SO MANY DAHLIAS, SO LITTLE TIME
Dahlias are classified as tender perennials, meaning they may be annual or perennial, depending on the climate. They typically start blooming in August with other late-summer flowers. But perhaps the best thing about them is that they don’t stop blooming until the first frost, or roughly right around Thanksgiving.
And in spite of their reputation for towering stems and gigantic blooms, the plants come in all shapes and sizes. These can range in height from the very tall specimens of my childhood to just under 12 inches. Planting the tubers is easy. Just dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and drop them in with the ‘eyes’ facing up. I usually plant three tubers per hole for the most colorful effect.
FLOWERS AS BIG AS A FOOT
Still, it goes without saying that the most notable feature of all dahlias are the flowers. These can range in diameter from 2 inches to almost one foot. And among these, there are standard flower types, each with its own specifications. For example, there are species with single, double and semi-double petals. And there are unusual shapes like spherical or cactus while others resemble flowers such as anemones, peonies or orchids.
Waterlily dahlia ‘Pam Howden’
Despite the variety, however, one thing they all have in common are their dazzling colors. Dahlias come in a seemingly infinite array, including all shades of pink, red, scarlet, orange, purple and yellow. Moreover, the flower petals often come painted with strips or tips of another color. (There are also creamy ones as well as many brilliant white species.)
In sum, with so many options to choose from, how do you decide? One way is to familiarize yourself with the most common types. You may be surprised to find that some don’t look like the ‘typical’ dahlia.
THE TEN MOST COMMON DAHLIA TYPES
Single-flowered dahlias feature a single row of flat or slightly cupped ray petals surrounding a central disc.
Semi-double dahlias have two or more rows of petals surrounding a central disc.
Mignon dahlias are similar to single dahlias except their petal florets are rounded and their disc flowers have no more than two rows.
Mignon dahlia with burgundy/black foliage
Anemone dahlias have an inner disc made up of tubular shaped florets and an outer ring of one or more rows of flat ray petals.
Anemone dahlia ‘Polka’
Orchid dahlias are open centered flowers with just one row of ray florets surrounding a disc. The petals are often overlapping and curled for most of their length.
Collarette dahlias have one row of flat petals surrounding a disc as well as an inner wreath of shorter petals called the ‘collar’.
Collarette dahlia ‘Mary Eveline’ plum red petals with white ‘collar’
Ball and Pompon dahlias are ball-shaped and feature double flowers with rounded or blunt tipped florets. Pompons are slightly smaller than ball dahlias, which are known for their perfectly round flower heads.
Orange ball dahlias – notice the slightly flattened shape
The perfectly round pompon dahlia ‘Franz Kafka’
Decorative dahlias are doubles that feature flat, oval petals with tips on the end. Formal varieties have regular, evenly placed petals, while informal varieties tend to be arranged in a more haphazard way. Both varieties grow to over 40 inches.
Decorative dahlia ‘Lisa Dark Pink’
Cactus and semi-cactus dahlias have narrow pointed petals that roll back on themselves, giving them a spiky look. Cactus types are rolled for their full length, while semi cactus types include a mix of flat and rolled petals. Both are considered double flowers and reach an average height of around 40 inches.
Orange cactus dahlia
Semi-cactus dahlia ‘Aloha’
There are many other varieties, including peony, waterlily and stellar, not to mention the celebrated ‘Dinner Plate’ which falls under numerous categories. The Miscellaneous Dahlias category alone includes hundreds of varieties.
Dahlias are sold as tubers and need to be planted after the ground has warmed up and there’s no danger of frost. I usually plant mine in the late spring just around the time my tulips have faded. Plant the tubers in well drained soil in full sun for best results. You can also pot them up indoors a couple weeks beforehand to give them a head start.
Dahlia tubers need to winter indoors in a cool, but not cold, space
Considered hardy outdoors in USDA zones 8 to 10, dahlias are considered tender in my neck of the woods (Zone 6.) Once they’re done flowering in the fall (or right after the first frost), I dig them up, label them and store them in a dry spot in the basement.
They look like they’ve jumped out of a Dr. Zeus book — giant purple balls stuck like lollipops on long flexible stems. Alliums can be a bit startling the first time you encounter them. But there’s so much to love about these drought tolerant plants, including long bloom period and resistance to most pests and diseases. And, their whimsical appeal is a sure-fire way to liven up your garden. Continue reading →
A few years ago, I was visiting Lima in December when suddenly, a sweet perfume came floating across the warm afternoon air. For a moment I was taken aback, until I realized the smell was none other than the scent of roses. And rounding the corner there they were; velvety, cherry-red blooms beckoning me into their fragrant garden. Continue reading →
Updating a home can get pretty expensive. That being said, flowering houseplants can offer an affordable alternative. I love how they perk up a room, instantly providing warmth to indoor spaces. Best of all, they can be changed up seasonally or made part of the permanent decor. And houseplants are a whole lot longer lasting than cut flowers. Continue reading →