Life And Style: The Victorian Language Of Flowers (Lesson One)

Let us say that you open the door and find that you have been delivered a bouquet of flowers, or better still, that a servant has opened the door and brought you a bouquet of flowers. Your mind is all of a flutter with questions…

Is there a note? Who is it from? But, more importantly, what does it mean?

Attributing meaning and symbolism to flowers has a long history, which stretches back into Antiquity. Yet the language of flowers is, at the present time, enjoying something of a heyday. Many a young lady will reach for her dictionary as soon as some flowers are in sight, and even gentleman are learning to immerse themselves in this fine and delicate language.

However, there are many pitfalls to beware. The way in which the flowers are tied or given can entirely change the meaning. The possibility for misinterpretation and miscommunication is great. You may, for example, find yourself entangled in a betrothal which you had been attempting to refuse. The peril!

Yet, once again, Behind The Past is here to save you from this dreadful, aforementioned peril.

First, one must bear in mind these key practises in the arranging and sending of flowers:

  • If the ribbon binding the bouquet is tied to the left, the meaning implied by the flowers refers to the giver.
  • If the ribbon is tied to the right, the symbolism is about the receiver.
  • The way flowers are given can answer a question. If flowers are handed over with the right hand, the answer was ‘yes’. If the left hand is used, the answer is ‘no’.
  • If flowers are handed over upside down, then their meaning and symbolism is reversed.

Secondly, we shall now consider the meaning of some common and generally recognised flowers:

  • Bluebell – Constancy
  • Buttercup – Childish Ways
  • Daffodil – Regard
  • Daisy – Innocence
  • Holly – Foresight
  • Iris – Message
  • Lavender – Distrust
  • Rosemary – Remembrance
  • Snowdrop – Hope

It must nevertheless be seriously stressed that the above list is by no means exhaustive. Moreover, while a flower may have a general meaning, specific colours within that variety have a further or additional meaning. These are topics which will, of course, be covered in future. Until then, this should serve as a useful, introductory guide to the language of flowers.

References and Further Links

Greenaway, Kate, The Language Of Flowers, (London: George Routledge and Sons) [First Published 1884].

Mason, Sandra, ‘Interpreting The Meaning Of Flowers’, University of Illinois Extension,

Please note that Behind The Past cannot accept responsibility for the content of external links and websites.

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