Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Postcard Of The Week : The Language of Flowers


Getting the message across to your over-enthusiastic lover is something that is now achieved by text message or by Facebook status. "bck off u prat" might do the trick or perhaps you could change your Facebook status to "not currently in a relationship". Our Victorians predecessors might not have had access to the wonders of modern technology, but they too had their ways of sending a potent message to the object of ones' affections. During the latter part of the nineteenth century this was by flowers, or to be more exact, by the language of flowers.  Like a perfectly composed text message, each type of flower had a meaning so you could choose your flower and highlight your meaning. Send someone a bunch of Amaryllis and you were complimenting them on their "splendid beauty", Foxgloves implied insincerity and a couple of French Marigolds meant you were as jealous as hell. 

It sounds fairly easy and straight forward, but the road to true love has always been subject to the occasional pot hole, and you had to be certain that your beloved was reading from the same code book as you were. According to the rather splendid website "The Language of Flowers", meanings changed over time and you had to be careful that you weren't sending out the wrong message so to speak. If a chap got a bunch of azalea in 1883 it meant "romance" and he could start twirling is moustache in eager anticipation, but if they were delayed in the post until 1892 by then it meant "temperance" so he could put the bottle of Madeira away and go in search of a cold bath.

By the first decade of the twentieth century some of the uncertainty had been taken out of the process by the intervention of new technology - to be precise, the postcard. You could buy a picture postcard with a picture of the flower, which was much easier and cheaper than sourcing a bunch of African Violets. To be doubly sure the postcard would have the correct interpretation printed on it, and to be absolutely certain, it would often have a dramatic little picture to ram home the message. So be warned : don't go around cajoling people without good cause, or you might have a postcard falling through your letter box.

The above postcard is one of several  "Language of Flowers" postcards from the collection of my Uncle Fowler. Published in the "living Picture Series", it dates from about 1903. It has not been postally used.

16 comments:

  1. I was just reading about the painting "Ophelia" by Millais, yesterday and the meaning of all the flowers contained therein but wasn't aware of the change wrought upon them in different eras...food for thought, indeed sir :)

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  2. I'll think of this the next time I send or receive flowers and I'm definitely checking out the link...

    Lovely postcard, btw.
    :)

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  3. I found out that different flowers have different meaning in different cultures too. So, you have to be really careful.
    Your post got me thinking too...I bet people have broken up with partners by simply posting "not in a relationship" on FaceBook. I'm sure it's happened.
    Great post and beautiful card. Thank you!

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  4. Lovely postcard...I like the touches of color. Yes, the road to romance is fraught with peril : )

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  5. Really a lovely postcard.

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  6. i had no idea the meaning of the flowers changed with time - and if your example is indicative, a relatively brief time span!!

    a friend gave me a little book several years ago a dictionary of sorts for 'the language of flowers'

    i'll have to compare it to the website

    perhaps best be safe when giving flowers to write one's own accompanying note!

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  7. I love the language of flowers, & I know that website quite well! I've referred to several times while working on my current book of poems! Love that postcard.

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  8. Sound advice for those with horticultural hearts.

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  9. When I was in college, there was a girl in my dorm who took all this very seriously! She was quite upset with her new boyfriend who sent her red roses. She said they should have been white because he hadn't kissed her yet. The rest of us said she was crazy...take the roses and just say thank you! ha.

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  10. I adore those old fashioned meanings behind flowers. Not that they have any influence on my personal favorites, though.

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  11. how wonderful and ever so better than texting---I am going to visit the website --thanks!

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  12. I love the way you wrote about this. I got a bit of a chuckle.

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  13. Great post, Alan.
    I can remember going to church on Mother's Day and all of us boys wore tulips on our little suit lapels. Mom always pointed out that red meant your mother was still alive and if white was woren, it was in memory of her.
    Thanks for bringing something from the past that I haven't thought of for years. :) The Bach

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  14. The problem with real flowers here is that they wilt in the heat during summer so a postcard is perfect! I never knew about Azaleaes then I never thought of them as good 'cut flowers' either. I once sent white flowers to a Chinese friend's funeral thinking it was culturally appropriate but no . . I should have sent red because they mean prosperity and good luck!

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  15. The Lost Art Of Cajoling !

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  16. I have seen shows telling how the nosegays had significant meaning by the types of flowers added. It almost seemed like Morse code sending a bouquet with all it's different parts of meaning.

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