The Language of Flowers

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 26 2003

Every flower tells a story. A red rose given to a true love, a daisy peeking out of a buttonhole, a bundle of violets handed demurely to a crush -- each conveys a different sentiment. For a bride and groom, the blooms they carry or wear as they stand together at the altar can be a reflection of the love shared between them.

Flowers, plants, and herbs have been used as symbols since antiquity, but the romantic custom of using flowers to converse flourished after the 1819 publication in France of Charlotte de Latour's "Le Langage des Fleurs." In this enormously popular book, hundreds of flora were paired with translations, which ranged from heartwarming to heartbreaking. Courting couples used blooms to declare their affection even when the strict etiquette of the times prohibited them from speaking openly, a method of communicating that became nearly an art. An ill-considered choice of blooms could leave a suitor's amorous intention misunderstood, whereas the right flower needed no explanation. If a lady was given a spray of red tulips, for instance, she knew her gentleman caller was smitten. If the ardor was returned, she might send him a bouquet of lilacs. But if she chose to respond with an arrangement of ivy, he'd realize a romance probably would not blossom.

Over time, many floral definitions have changed according to culture and whim. Today, we pay homage to what the Victorians did best -- we use flowers to show love, express grief, and offer praise -- even if we're not well versed in the language. The bouquet and boutonnieres shown here revisit this vast lexicon; each was composed with the flowers' meanings in mind. Let the ideas inspire you, then use our guide to select blooms that speak for you.

Red Bouquet
A vintage brocade ribbon is trimmed with velvet for a luxurious effect; its pattern mirrors the bouquet's blooms.

Garden rose = Love
Carnation = Pure love
Tulip = Declaration of love

Tiny details can make a bold statement. We embellished these with velvet ribbon, double-sided satin ribbon, and gold cord, then added adornments such as vintage buttons and decorative stick pins.

Baby's breath = Everlasting love
Pink carnation = Woman's love
Fuchsia = Confiding love
Hyacinth = Sport and play
Lily-of-the-valley = Return of happiness
Fern = Magic
Ivy = Friendship


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