The Language of Flowers

Take a cue from the Victorian custom of communicating with flowers and give someone you love a bouquet rich with personal sentiment.


Take a step back into Victorian times, when flower-rich bouquets and petite nosegays were arranged with attention not only to the beauty of the blooms but to their meanings as well.

In a rediscovery of traditions that go as far back as the Greeks and Romans, the 19th century saw thoughts, feelings, and wishes assigned to hundreds of plants and flowers. The result was a kind of floral code through which poetic suitors and the objects of their affections could coyly communicate in prim Victorian society.

Through time, some flowers have acquired multiple and even contradictory meanings, and not every flower has been assigned one. For example, foxglove, a cottage garden favorite, could mean either "insincerity" or "a wish," depending on the occasion.

A modern approach to communicating with flowers calls for a loose interpretation of the meanings and a willingness to have fun. Feel free to make one or several symbolic flowers the stars of your bouquet, then fill in with blossoms that contribute beauty, but not necessarily meaning, to the arrangement.

The vast vocabulary of flowers can express sentiments for hundreds of occasions. Celebrate an anniversary by giving the lucky couple a bouquet of red and white roses, symbolizing "love" and "unity," respectively, mixed with hydrangea and lavender, both of which communicate "devotion." Or thank a friend with a clutch of bellflower, expressing "gratitude," and daisy fleabane and parsley, which both mean "thank you."

Celebrate Love Bouquet

Thank You Flowers

Bouquet of Congratulations

Flowers to Welcome Baby

Missing You Arrangement

With Sympathy Vase

Finish each arrangement by attaching a handwritten tag that lists the meaning of each flower, or explain them in person when you deliver the bouquet. You might include a flower meanings reference book so the recipient can continue the tradition.

Our half-dozen blooming beauties mix stems cut from the garden with florist favorites in combinations pleasing to the eye and the heart. We hope they inspire you to compose your own poem in flowers.

Create your own floral masterpiece with these ideas from Creative Home magazine. See our easy instructions!

Loving thoughts abound in this arrangement, perfect for a wedding shower, an engagement party, or a gift to someone you love.

Bold color comes from magenta ranunculus and hot pink peonies, while pale pink sweet peas and bells of Ireland bring in softer tones. Fern fronds and white bouvardia peek out from between the blooms.

Find the meanings of these flowers in the list below.

Floral Messages
  • ranunculus (dazzled by your charm)
  • peonies (bashfulness)
  • sweet peas (meet me)
  • bells of Ireland (whimsy)
  • fern fronds (fascination)
  • bouvardia (enthusiasm)

Greet the hostess at your next dinner party with a handful of lush greens and beautiful blooms.

Green-and-white caladium, ivy, and mint contribute texture, while white gooseneck loosestrife, along with white carnations and red spray roses make dramatic pops of color against the greens.

The stems are held together with floral tape; when it's time to go, just wrap a pretty ribbon around them and deliver the clutch of blooms by hand. The recipient can then pop it into a vase of her choice.

Find the meanings of these flowers in the list below.

Floral Messages
  • caladium (great joy)
  • ivy (friendship)
  • mint (warmth of feeling)
  • gooseneck loosestrife (wishes granted)
  • white carnations (admiration)

Celebrate a great accomplishment in style. Large yellow roses, pale yellow calla lilies, and, unexpectedly, fennel from the herb garden contribute pretty shades of yellow.

For a dramatic touch of green, oak leaves and ivy are tucked around the outer edges of the bouquet, and rhubarb leaves offer up a tongue-in-cheek message: brouhaha.

Find the meanings of these flowers in the list below.

Floral Messages
  • yellow roses (highest achievement)
  • calla lilies (elegance)
  • fennel (praise)
  • oak leaves (strength)
  • ivy (ambition)

Japanese maple leaves set a sweet tone perfect for celebrating the birth of a baby.

Red-and-green caladium, dark green hosta leaves, and rich purple basil make a rich framework for burgundy calla lilies and light pink bouvardia. Lovely coral roses and spikes of heather add more delicate color.

With its sentiments of parental pride, this bouquet could also congratulate a child upon her graduation, engagement, or wedding.

Find the meanings of these flowers in the list below.

Floral Messages
  • Japanese maple leaves (baby's hand)
  • caladium (delight)
  • hosta leaves (devotion)
  • purple basil (best wishes)
  • calla lilies (beauty)
  • pink bouvardia (enthusiasm)
  • coral roses (admiration)
  • heather (protection from danger)

Cutting-garden favorites, zinnias in orange and hot pink partner with blue salvia and clusters of green hydrangea. Curly sprigs of mint and orange spray roses round out the arrangement.

Find the meanings of these flowers in the list below.

Floral Messages
  • zinnias (thoughts of an absent friend)
  • blue salvia (thinking of you)
  • green hydrangea (remembrance)
  • mint (warmth of feeling)
  • orange spray roses (love)

Oak leaves create a grand framework for a bouquet that expresses sympathy.

Purple roses and white lilies mix with pale yellow tulips and rosemary. Lavender, tendrils of clematis, and Queen Anne's lace contribute to the theme.

Find the meanings of these flowers in the list below.

Floral Messages
  • oak leaves (strength)
  • purple roses (sorrow)
  • white lilies (resurrection)
  • rosemary (memory)
  • lavender (devotion)
  • clematis (unchanged for eternity)
  • Queen Anne's lace (safe haven)

The Meaning of Roses


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