Create Messages With Herbs and Flowers

Learn which posies say "I'm sorry" and which scream "Congratulations!"

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Fresh-cut flowers and herbs are a surefire way to brighten a room or make someone’s day. We use them to say “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” or “Thank you.” But over the years, flowers have been invested with a language of their own. For instance, a gift of ivy says “fidelity.” A stem of goldenrod says, “Be careful.” The basis for this language began in Turkey in the 1600s and traveled to Europe in the 1700s. Meanings have transmuted, and inconsistencies abound. Still, an inkling of this symbolism lets you create more meaningful bouquets.

“What matters in flower-giving is heartfelt sentiment, not necessarily aesthetics or precision of message,” says Heather Pike, owner of Heather Pike Designs in Walls, Mississippi. “The little aw-shucks bunch of drooping daisies that fellows always seem to pull from behind their backs in romantic movies often capture our hearts more than perfect bouquets.”

Some provocative combinations follow on the next page, but mix and match posies as you please. And as you go from garden to grocery store to florist gathering your bunch, use the time to think about the message you’d like your bouquet to convey.

Power 

Cabbage leaves profit
Columbine, purple resolved to win
Cress stability, power
Oak leaves bravery
Tiger lily wealth, pride
Tulip fame

Family allegiance 

Bluebell constancy
Cinquefoil maternal affection
Ivy fidelity
Nasturtium patriotism
Sage domestic virtue, esteem
Virgin’s bower filial love

Friendship 

Chrysanthemum,
white truth
Lavender admiration
Lily, white sweetness
Pansy thoughts of you
Sweet basil good wishes
Zinnia thoughts of absent friends

Desire 

Chrysanthemum, red love
Fleur de Lis flame, burn
Myrtle love
Rose, red love
Sunflower, dwarf adoration
Tulip, red declaration of love

Mourning 

Carnation, deep red “alas, my poor heart”
Daisy, Michaelmas farewell
Geranium, dark melancholy
Lily of the valley return of happiness
Poppy, white consolation
Rosemary remembrance

Gratitude 

Dandelion faithfulness, happiness
Fennel worthy of all praise
Field lilac humility
Parsley festivity
Poppy, scarlet fantastic extravagance
Rose, dark pink thankfulness

Forgiveness 

Currant “your frown will kill me”
Jonquil “I desire a return of affection”
Marjoram blushes
Peony shame, bashfulness
Raspberry remorse
Rose, deep red bashful shame


 Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer is a poet and writer living in Telluride, Colorado.