I recently received a light-read fiction book from a friend who has come to know my growing adoration for my beloved blooms. It is titled "The language of Flowers" by American novelist Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I enjoyed the story but more importantly it triggered my curiosity into further reading on the topic. I have since discovered many similar titles, poems, love stories, academic writings and historical text about the Victorian Era's (and even in earlier centuries) obsession with Floriography or "The Language of Flowers".
The language of flowers, sometimes called Floriography, was a means of secret communication through the use or gifting of flowers. Meanings were attributed to flowers for thousands of years, and some form of Floriography has been practiced in traditional cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Plants and flowers are used as symbols in the Bible, particularly of love and lovers in the Song of Songs as an emblem for the Israelite people and for the coming Messiah. In Shakespearian times flowers often contributed meanings to flowers, for example in Hamlet.
There was a heightened interest in Floriography during the Victorian era in England and the continued in the USA during the 19th century. Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken aloud in Victorian society. Armed with floral dictionaries, Victorians often exchanged small "talking bouquets", called nosegays which could be worn or carried as a fashion accessory. Sounds very romantic, doesn't it!
I have discovered that many of my most beloved blooms like Roses, Hellebores, Dahlias, Poppies, Lily if the Valley and many more carry wonderfully fitting and positive meanings. But it wouldn't have been quite the Victorian times without superstition either so I have also discovered that my all time favourites, like Peonies and Anemones carried rather dark meanings in old Victorian times. I am in no way superstitious and choose to rather enjoy and marvel at God's most precise floral creation and I will keep using any flower that catches my interest for a particular bouquet.
Even though some of these meanings are encouraging and "nice-to-know", my belief is rather to enjoy the floral gifts of fragrance, colour, texture and visual appeal and to celebrate the act of giving and the joy of receiving. No flower in my opinion should ever be hidden or avoided, each can shine in its own right. Whether I choose the humble cosmos or the "weedy" cornflower, the delicate Cuphea, blossoming wattle or in contrast the blooms only preferred by flower-snobs and royalty like Sweet William , Primrose, Lily and Rose, each flower tells her own story. I often find myself talking to these little petalled princesses while I'm arranging them in a bouquet encouraging them to "lift your little head and shine in your own right". My hope is that each one will be noticed and celebrated regardless of it being bold or ordinary.
Whenever I am asked to create a Happy Blooms bouquet, I can't resist adding these gorgeous little colourful fairies to the arrangement. Zinnias are from the sunflower tribe and part of the daisy family. They are native to the Americas but grow happily in sunny Australian gardens too. They produce perky long-stemmed flowers that come in a variety of bright colours, hence my love for them in all bright and cheerful floral creations.
Zinnias are inexpensive and easy to grow from seed and will produce an array of bright pockets in your summer garden and as a bonus they will do very well as cut flowers. They're sun lovers and will thrive even when temperatures soar into the 40s. Zinnias flowering season is generally from January to April. When cut and hydrated, Zinnias last up to a week in a vase.
Just because I love art, I have to share this story. The famous philanthropic Australian artist, Margaret Olley painted the stunning oil on board, "David's Zinnias" after she visited friends in Victoria. A small vase of red and cerise Zinnias was placed in her room as a gift. When returning to Sydney the next day, she popped them in her bag, took them with her on the plane to use as inspiration. A week later, she phoned to ask for another exact bunch as she started the work and needed a fresh bunch to continue. As a beautiful gesture, Olley's friends continued to send her a bunch of Zinnias from Creswick Victoria to Sydney NSW by overnight express every week during the summer months until her death in 2011.
In the arrangement above I used Sea Holly, Veronica, Berries, Carnations and Silver Dollar Gum together with my Happy Blooms.
My most beloved English Garden Rose varieties are undoubtedly those bred by the great rosarian, David Austin and no bridal bouquet is without them when they are in season. I can't quite decide on a favourite as there are in fact over 230 Austin cultivars to choose from. Whether it's the gorgeous blushing pink Wedgewood or Scepter'd Isle with its powerful myrrh fragrance or the beautiful Teasing Georgia, with its rich yellow, rosette-shaped blooms and lovely, strong tea fragrance, all my Austin roses bloom prolifically and repeatedly throughout Spring and Summer, even into Autumn adding a splash of colour and sense of elegant romance to my Sydney garden.
David Charles Henshaw Austin was born on 16 February 1926, making him exactly, to the day, 40 years older than my sweetheart. David Austin lives in Shropshire, England and his passion over the past 60 years has been to breed roses with the character and fragrance of old garden roses but with the repeat-flowering ability and wide colour range of modern roses.
In October this year, the Daily Mail UK described David who turned 90 in February as the "Godfather of the English Rose". During the Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year, he had a chat with another famous nonagenarian, Queen Elizabeth II. She has an Austin Rose dedicated to her and it is aptly decribed as a rose with "numerous clear pink, globular flowers on long, upright stems. Prominent. Indestructible."
David, like me, has difficulty choosing favourites, but when pressed he said he has a weakness for the stunning white 'Claire Austin' named after his daughter and he considers the pink ‘Olivia Rose Austin’, named after his granddaughter as one of the best he's ever bred.
The official David Austin site (http://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk) describes the achievement of this legendary rose genius in a few humble sentences:
"In the early 1950s David Austin set out to create a more beautiful rose. Sixty years on, this simple objective remains.
From a hobby breeder as a young teenager, David Austin has gone on to breed a collection of roses renowned across the world.
Rose breeding is often described as being as much an art as a science.
All David Austin roses have a collective style and reflect one man’s vision. All have beautiful blooms and in most cases wonderful fragrance held on graceful attractive shrubs. A garden of these outstanding roses is hard to beat for sheer exuberance of flower and fragrance.
Today, David Austin Roses remains a family business. David Austin has been joined by his son David and his grandson, Richard."
Please take a cyber tour https://www.facebook.com/davidaustinroses/ of the plant centre and gardens and if you're actually ever in the very fortunate position to be in the Bowling Green Lane, Albrighton, Wolverhampton area, don't miss the opportunity to wander through the 2 acres of pure heaven, enjoy a stylish afternoon High Tea served on David Austin tea wear and take the time to stop and smell the roses....
How wonderful that this gorgeous garden cut-flower is making a very notable comeback in every floral designers' repertoire. Getting down at 5am on Friday to Flemington markets meant that I dodged the scramble for these gorgeous White Ballerina Waterlily Dahlias and quickly snapped up my bunches before they all vanished. Combining them with stunning snow white Porcelain Roses and the fabulous "Snow of the Mountain" or Euphorbia marginate "Summer Icicle" made this "Remembrance Day" bouquet extra memorable.
The Dahlia is the national flower of Mexico. Spaniards reported finding the plants growing in Mexico in 1525, but the earliest known description is by Francisco Hernández, physician to Philip II, who was ordered to visit Mexico in 1570 to study the "natural products of that country". They were used as a source of food by the indigenous peoples, and were both gathered in the wild and cultivated. The Aztecs used them to treat epilepsy and employed the long hollow stem of the (Dahlia imperalis) for water pipes. Dahlias are members of the family Asteraceae, which is part of the daisy family. These wonderful flowers originated in the mountain ranges of Mexico, Guatemala and Columbia, before becoming popular throughout the world.
A gardening expert once said of Dahlias, "Never have so many enjoyed so much with so little time and work." And he was right. There's probably no plant in the flower kingdom that gives the gardener more spectacular reward than the dahlia.
Dahlias are a little like roses. Or hostas. Most gardeners can't grow just one. Once you grow a Dahlia, you want more. And like roses or hostas, there are seemingly endless dahlias to keep a Dahlia gardener happy. Growing them is remarkably easy, so that just adds to the frenzy. If you've never grown a Dahlia, it's high time you did.
They’re also available in many forms and different sizes, ranging from dwarf 40cm to 1.5-2m giants. You can grow dahlias from seed or tubers – both will happily thrive in a pot or planted in the garden. And, with reasonable care, they will produce a mass of colourful blooms for years to come.
Dahlias prefer warm areas but can be grown outdoors in all climates. In colder climates, tubers should be planted only when the last frost has passed. These plants are sun-lovers, so choose a sunny position in the garden where they’ll get at least six hours of sunlight. Ensure they are protected from strong winds.
Dahlias have been celebrated in many of the art work of the great impressionists, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet. If you happen to have been in New York between May and November 2015, you would have had the joy of seeing these gorgeous blooms take centre stage at the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the New York Botanical Gardens. If not, you can still see them in bloom in late summer and early Autumn if you wander down the Seasonal Walk.
The Dahlia I chose to use in this arrangement is called The White Ballerina, from the Waterlily Dahlia Group. These flowers have double blooms, broad sparse curved, slightly curved or flat florets and very shallow in depth compared with other dahlias.
Dare I say that I have a new darling on my "must have" list.
I had the most wonderful grandmother any person could have wished for. I am sure that my love for gardening and florally blooms in particular, is a direct result of spending countless hours in her rose garden with her while she lovingly tended her beloved florals. I can still see her with her apron, gloves and rose prune shears in hand, with a wide brimmed sunhat and her gorgeous smile. She always smelt of flowers too. Like the garden was part of her, her own piece of living art. She taught me (and my mum, who loves her garden with equal passion) all about caring for our own flowers and to respect nature. She hardly ever used chemicals to fend off pests, instead, we were paid a couple of cents for every rose beetle we caught and put in a jar which she fed together with other grubs and crumbs to the large array of wild native birds that loved visiting her garden as much as we all did.
She had many favourites, Dahlias, Alstroemeria, Gaillardia, Roses and of course the stunning Peonies, which have become my gorgeous daughter's most favourite bloom of all.
In honour of her, I thought to dedicate the next couple of blog posts to learning more about a particular flower. Once the story of each of these blooming beauties are known their presence in an arrangement hopefully continues to inspire us to appreciate the wonderful precision to which they have each been so purposefully created.
THE GRAND PEONY
I visited China last year and was amazed to see the gorgeous varieties of this amazing flower and how much it is revered and loved. It features in their art work, on gorgeous silk scarves and as their unofficial national flower it stands as a symbol of spring, female beauty and reproduction. It also represents richness, honour and high social class. Peonies grown in China were once a luxury item, selling for the equivalent of thousands of dollars for one flower stem.
Few other garden plants go back in history as far as peonies, which in China have been used and cultivated for over 4000 years. There are hundreds of cultivars, of which only a few can be found in gardens in Central Europe.
In ancient times the peony was held in high esteem as a medicinal plant.
In Christian symbolism the peony flower represented wealth, feminine beauty, and healing power. In the Middle Ages peonies were often painted with their ripe seed-capsules, since it was the seeds, not the flowers, which were medicinally significant. Usually the roots and seeds of the plants were used to treat all kinds of ailments.
Peonies (sometimes referred to as Peony Roses - Peonies are however not related to roses at all) are challenging plants that most good gardeners would like to grow and most florists ADORE using in arrangements! Of all the peonies, tree peonies are the most difficult plants to grow.
The genus name Paeonia is derived from Paion, the physician to the gods in Greek mythology, implying praise for something of exceptional quality.
Peonies are desirable because:
Like people, Peonies have different likes. These include:
The variety featured in my bouquet is called "Paula Fay". They bloom heavily in late Spring to early Summer, make excellent cut flowers with excellent vase life (over 7 days) and have won the American Peony Society's gold medal. As a garden plant, the "Paula Fay" Peony is rabbit and possum resistant but butterflies love them! Let's all be butterflies then......
We want you to enjoy our blooms for as long as possible and you may have heard the 'tips' on how to best look after your flowers at home and what to add to or filter out of the water....mouthwash (save that for the kisses)....a dash of bleach, (yes, it kills the bacteria but rather save it for your stained whites) and sugar....(save that for when you're enjoying dark chocolate and a movie).
This is what we suggest....
All newlyweds know, money is tight when you first start out. Yet, walking past the local florist inevitably meant that a scrambled egg baguette was probably on the menu for dinner (hubby sighs....) There was this little flower shop close to where we once lived that had an enchanting way to coax me in from the rain where I would indulge, not only visually but also in the smell the moss, the Eucalyptus leaves, the peonies, the lily of the valley, lavender and hyacinths.
I've had my favourites over the years, irises, lilies, hanging amaranth, peonies and vintage dusty pink roses. But the natives like the Waratah and the exquisite protea, the brunia berries, twigs, moss, sage greens and succulents have all made a grant entrance into my floral heart. Working with fresh flowers, means never quite replicating a bouquet or arrangement, and I never tire of the anticipation to see how it finally comes together.
I love every step of the process, from choosing the blooms from market buckets at 5am, to laying them out and prepping stems before they all get put together as a new creation. A living art piece, a symphony that has the magical ability to lighten a tired soul. Flowers are gifts and as the saying goes, "A little bit of fragrance clings to the one who gives flowers". Floral designers never quite tire of the mixed fragrance of foliage and petals and water on concrete.
Flowers celebrate life and new beginnings, we give them as a token of love and appreciation (or in hubby's case to say sorry sometimes... and it works....). We win hearts with them and they speak life into cold stone walls. Flowers brighten up gloomy days and dreary rooms, flowers awaken our senses and remind us of our unique human ability to appreciate beautiful things and connect with nature. Flowers take our focus off from the cares of the day remind us of the goodness of a loving, most generous Creator.
I echo Claude Monet " I must have flowers, always, and always".