Reading Between the Flowers-What that bouquet is really saying

meadow with colorful wild flowers

The language of flowers is rich in symbolism, a secret code waiting to be cracked.

Hark whats that? There’s a ring at the door. A parcel for you!

Nestled in the folds of tissue paper is a bouquet from the young man you hope will be your beau, but what does it all mean?  Is it love? Is it friendship or kind regards? There must be some significance in someone sending you a slip of a nettle tree  and a sheath of oats right?

Right you are. This is a bouquet with a message.

Thankfully we have The Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway at hand to help us read between the flowers.

The languageof FlowersSo give those geranium leaves a rub, if they are lemon-scented it signifies and unexpected meeting, how exciting. But if they are rose scented it means preference, that’s good too.

Rub, rub. Sniff, sniff. And again just to make sure.

They’re nutmeg geraniums, an expected meeting.  It looks like you might have an invitation.

Now for the thorny question of the nettle tree, concert, an invitation to a concert!

That explains the oats which naturally signify the witching soul of music.  

This is all very well but how does he feel about you? Is it merely an overture of friendship or something more?

It is your lucky day because the star of the show is a single thorn-less rose, early attachment, that is very promising. It isn’t love but it’s more than friendship. He always was the cautious type.

So with heart all a twitter you plan your posy for the concert, something to send a message of course. Cape jasmine perhaps? Or would it look desperate to say ‘I am too happy‘ about attending a concert? What if it turns out a dreadful bore, no better go with something safe.

Violets perhaps, modesty is always good, though modesty and purity are even better, white lilies, which will look striking with your dark blue dress, but there aren’t any left in the garden. What to do?

In the end you decide to keep it simple and wear his thorn-less rose adding a sprig of rose-scented geranium. A return of early attachment with a preference for him. It’s all settled.

The significance of Flowers

It is enchanting to imagine the messages that might be sent between lovers with the aid of this little book or coded messages between friends.  However I think the symbolism of flowers and was of more importance for coat of arms, art and poetry than for posies.  For example sheaves of wheat engraved on a silver tray a symbol of riches or plenty would make a good wedding or anniversary gift.

I am sure that young girls of a certain age in 1884, when this book was first released, would have had as much fun composing bouquets as my friends and I had when we chanced upon it in a used book store.

From time to time I will include a coded message for you gentle reader to muse over.

For this week what emotion should you call up if you find someone has slipped a French Marigold and sprig of Frog Ophrys on your pillow? And who would send such a message?

I’d love to hear your guesses.

The answer to be revealed next Friday.



The Dangers of Indiscriminate Fanning

Three fans

No lady would attend a social function without her fan and not merely to combat the heat of over crowded rooms. A fan was much more than a way to cool your flushed cheeks after a rousing polka, it was a tool of communication. If you were not careful that fan could get you in to all sorts of trouble. Let me explain…

If you are of the fortunate number of engaged ladies, never fan too fast, it could draw unwelcome attention or worse still make your beloved doubt your constancy,  as it means you are independent (I presume that means unattached).  No matter how faint you feel from over exertion or how the sweat is trickling down your brow you must keep to sedate, gentle fanning.

On the other hand, if you are hoping to catch the attention of a certain young man do not fan too slow as that signals you are already engaged. Instead when the young man looks your way smile,  fan at a moderate speed with your right hand in front of your face; this is an invitation for him to join you. The guidance given in the Young Ladies Journal of 1872 does not specify if this means fanning with the right hand, fan before your face, presumably with a demure smile or if it means to fan with your left, holding your right hand in front of your face. The latter method would seem to indicate embarrassment so I recommend the former.


If you are attended by a resolute bore or galumphing swain you would rather be rid of, take care.

Try switching the fan to your left hand, fan it before your face and look bored, maybe add a yawn for good measure in case he missed that issue of the Young Ladies Journal, this tells him to leave you.

Whatever happens do not idly play with your fan when accompanied by such a gentleman as it could lead to mixed messages or unintended consequences. I will illustrate…

Single Fan

When your fan is more interesting than your attendant take special care.

First you open your fan wide to admire the fine painting on it. It is far more elegant and interesting than the gentleman regaling you with details of his moth collection. He falters in his tale. You look up.  His cheeks are slightly flushed, his eyes bright with anticipation, you have just told him you love him.

Aware of your transgression you quickly half close the fan, his face falls, you only want to be friends. But that does not dampen his enthusiasm for rare moths. You begin to play with your fan again. You  swing the fan by its ribbon only to notice your partner once again looking pleased as punch. Oh no, you just invited him to walk you home.

This is not good!

You become agitated and quickly open and close your fan, unsure what to do. Suddenly he kisses you and tucks your free hand in to the crook of  his arm.

Oh you really should have paid more attention to the Young Ladies Journal, but you do remember one thing.  You snap your fan shut looking suitably hostile. The eager swain is crushed.  It was all a misunderstanding for in fact you do not love him,  you do not want him to walk you home, indeed the message is all too clear, you hate him.

Let this little story be a warning and a guide to the safe handling of your fan the next time you attend a ball or  the theater. Use it wisely and that young man you had your eye on just might see you home.


Guidance to Flirting with your Fan from the Young Ladies’ Journal 1872

  • Fan fast–I am independent
  • Fan slow–I am engaged
  • Fan with right hand in front of face–Come on
  • Fan with left hand in front of face–Leave me
  • Fan open and shut–Kiss me
  • Fan open wide–Love
  • Fan half open–Friendship
  • Fan shut –Hate
  • Fan swinging–Can I see you home?