Sacramento Digs Gardening logo
Sacramento Digs Gardening Article
Your resource for Sacramento-area gardening news, tips and events

Articles Recipe Index Keyword Index Calendar Twitter Facebook Instagram About Us Contact Us

Send a message this Valentine's Day

'Language of Flowers' adds extra meaning to every bloom (and some foliage, too)

A bright red rose against green foliage
Olympiad, a red hybrid tea, can mean " love you." (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

On Valentine’s Day, we let flowers do the talking. But do we know what they say?

“Red roses” mean “I love you!”; that’s by far the best-known floral exclamation. However, that’s just one statement of possibly thousands that can be contained in bouquets, arrangements or garden displays.

Dark red roses can mean “bashful shame.” A red rosebud represents someone who is “pure and lovely.” Red and white roses mixed together represent “unity” while a full-blown rose placed over two unopened buds equal the need for “secrecy.”

Such is the Language of Flowers. Today, that language is like Latin; largely forgotten and rare in daily use. Also like Latin, these flowery words may not be spoken daily, but their meanings (whether consciously or not) influence our choices, especially when we buy flowers as gifts – like on Valentine’s Day.

According to floral industry estimates, about 224 million roses – most of them red – are grown to be sold on Valentine’s Day.

During Victorian times, the Language of Flowers was at its height. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) influenced life around the globe, particularly fashion and culture. Her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert made a white wedding gown and white bridal flowers the standard for brides ever since. Victoria carried and wore orange blossoms, which mean, “Your purity equals your loveliness.” Her bouquet also included springs of myrtle, another symbol of love.

Victoria’s floral choices followed centuries of floral communication. Historians trace some of these meanings back to ancient Greece and Rome. For example, red roses were the favorite flower of Venus, the goddess of love.

In the complicated history of European royalty, flowers took on very specific meanings to send coded messages to members of court, dating back to Constantinople in the 1600s. By the 1700s, the Language of Flowers was in regular use in England, France and Swedish courts.

In 1819 (the year Victoria was born), ‘
Madame Charlotte de la Tour’ wrote the French version of the Language of Flowers. It pulled meanings from floral references in Greek and Roman mythology as well as Asian art.

In 1884, Kate Greenaway, a wildly popular illustrator of Victorian children’s books, created her illustrated “Language of Flowers” with hundreds of referenced blooms. That work forms the basis of the meanings we still associate with flowers today.

Greenaway included 34 meanings just for roses, depending on their variety, color and form. As for “love,” there are dozens of possible bouquet candidates (including fillers as well as flowers), depending on the intensity of that affection. Among them: Yellow acacia (“secret love”), ambrosia (“love returned”), red mum (“I love you”), yellow mum (“slighted love”), purple lilac (“first emotions of love”), lotus (“estranged love”), magnolia (“love of nature”), moss (“maternal love”), pear blossoms (“affection”) and pink carnations (“a woman’s love”).

The Garden Channel boiled down Greenaway’s encyclopedia to a very long list with many of those meanings. (Read it here: )

Whether putting together a Valentine’s Day bouquet or planning a whole flower garden, these Victorian meanings can add interest to every bloom.


0 comments have been posted.

Taste Summer! E-cookbook


Find our summer recipes here!

Newsletter Subscription

Sacramento Digs Gardening to your inbox.

Local News

Ad for California Local

Thanks to our sponsor!

Summer Strong ad for

Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Sept. 24:

This week our weather will be just right for fall gardening. What are you waiting for?

* Now is the time to plant for fall. The warm soil will get these veggies off to a fast start.

* Keep harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant. Tomatoes may ripen faster off the vine and sitting on the kitchen counter.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials. That includes bearded iris; if they haven’t bloomed in three years, it’s time to dig them up and divide their rhizomes.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with “eyes” about an inch below the soil surface.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

Taste Spring! E-cookbook


Find our spring recipes here!