The Language of Flowers

March 1, 2015

 We all know that red roses given on Valentine’s Day mean that the giver hopes for romance, but many other plants have specific meanings, too. From Daisies to Monkshood, flowering plants hold secret meanings. This week, we’ll show you how to plant a long lasting, perennial garden that really speaks to you. There is a long history of lovers trading flowers to show feelings they might not be ready to actually say. Who can forget the doomed Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, passing out flowers to the members of court? “There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts,” she says in her madness.


The name “pansy” comes from the French word for “thought,” pensée. The flower is thus named because of its tendency to nod in late summer sun, making it look like it is deep in thought. The pansy is a fascinating annual, but now is the time for perennial planting, and you can have another one of Ophelia’s famous flowers in your “Language Garden.”


Ophelia gives away a daisy, a flower that stands for her “purity and innocence.” In Christian legend, daisy petals represent Mary’s tears. For all of that, the daisy is a happy little blossom. Children throughout the centuries have made daisy chains to adorn their hair, and a field of daisies can make even the most cranky of us smile at the memories of our own childhood innocence. The daisy gets its name from the English “day’s eye” because the flowers open with the morning sun and close at dusk. At altitude, the perennial daisy grows beautifully. The “Silver Princess” Shasta variety (Leucanthemum x superbum) produces cheerful white blossoms with a yellow center. Plant in full sun to part shade and water freely. Silver Princess will grow 12 to 15 inches tall and should be spaced 12 inches. They need well-drained soil with organic material worked in. For vigorous blossoms from summer to fall, deadhead faded flowers and divide your daisies every two years. Once you have a nice bunch of daisies, they will speak to you of childhood innocence and joy. When this happens, go to and type in the search box “weave a crown of daisies” for complete instructions on how to make your own daisy chains.


The humble Cornflower or Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea cyanus) has its place in the history of love, also. It stands for  “delicacy” and “hope in solitude.” In the Middle Ages in England, it was said that a maiden who tucked a Cornflower blossom under her apron could have any bachelor that she wanted, hence the name Bachelor’s Button.  


Bachelor’s Button originally came in only blue flowerheads, but today you can find them in white, pink, and red.  The leaves are covered with small white hairs, giving the plant a blue-gray appearance.  Cornflower/Bachelor’s Button is drought tolerant and loves full sun. They are very easy to maintain as they do well in mixed soils in any sunny, well-drained location. They reach about 24 inches in height and should be spaced at least 12 inches apart. Try using Bachelor’s Button for mixed borders, mass plantings, and cut flower gardens. A vase of freshly cut Bachelor’s Button will bring hope to any lover in solitude.


Not all flowers speak of love: take Monkshood (Aconitum napellus) for example. Monkshood says, “Beware, a deadly foe is near.”  Monkshood gets it name from the cowl-like shape of its flower, reminiscent of the hoods worn by monks in the Middle Ages. In ancient Europe and Asia, Monkshood was used to poison enemy water supplies, and the ancient Greeks believed the plant originated from the drops of saliva from the fangs of Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the Underworld that Hercules brought to the surface.  Monkshood is closely linked with Werewolf mythology. Also known as Wolf’s Bane, this flower was said to alternatively bring on lycanthropy (making one into a werewolf) or to cure it. Monkshood is highly poisonous—even touching it to the lips will bring on a feeling of numbness and tingling.  Take care not to plant them where livestock are grazing, and make sure that small children, who are apt to put things in their mouths, aren’t able to reach them. Plant Monkshood in partial shade in ordinary soil about 48 inches apart. Keep moist. These tall, handsome flowers will grow to 36 inches and provide you with much coveted late season blue blossoms. Other varieties come in purple, white, yellow or pink.  Monkshood makes a great cut flower, lasting in the vase from 7 to 10 days. Have some on hand for the next full moon.  


On a sweeter note, the Daylily (Hemerocallis) symbolizes “coquetry” because its individual flowers last for only one day. Hemerocallis is Greek for the words “day” and “beauty,” pointing to the tendency of this plant’s blossoms to appear with the sunrise and fade by sunset, only to have a new bloom appear in the same place the next morning—much like the behavior of a flirtatious woman. Interestingly, the Daylily is the Chinese emblem for “mother.” Daylilies aren’t true lilies, but they are one of the most adaptable of landscape plants. Our “Golden Gate” Daylily reaches a height of 3 feet and is spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. This variety loves full sun, but can tolerate part shade. It requires little attention once established and is a consistent producer year after year. Let your Daylilies bat their beautiful orange-yellow blossoms, flirting with all who enjoy your talking garden.


Other perennials with special meanings include Sweet William, which stands for “gallantry”; Forget-Me-Not, symbolizing “true love, hope, and remembrance”; Yarrow, the “military herb”; and Delphinium, for those who are “big-hearted and fun.”


In fact, there are so many more “talking flowers,” that we can’t mention them all here, but if you’d like to know more, try getting a copy of Collier’s Cyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information by Nugent Robinson. This book is an oldy but a goody, containing an entire chapter devoted to “The Language of Flowers.” Amazingly, this 1904 publication will generate around 40,000 Google Search hits, over one hundred years after its first publication!  


For more information about “Landscapes That Speak To You,” contact us at 970-468-0340




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