The Language of Flowers

As St Valentine’s day approaches many couples are asking themselves about the most romantic and expressive gift for their partners. Through the ages, flowers remain a classic choice of love token.

Learn how to create your own unique Valentine’s bouquet using our guide to the historical symbolism of flowers.

Victorians loved symbolism, almost as much as they loved romantic and restorative strolls in carefully cultivated gardens such as those at Insole Court, where you will find new growth this February, full of seasonal beauty and rife with romantic symbolism. Each flower had its own hidden meaning, often dependent on the colour as well as type, as laid out in this illustrated postcard from the period. A well-crafted bouquet could convey a whole conversation.

Instructive manuals gave tips to help guide novice lovers. In 1852, Henrietta Dumont wrote a beautifully illustrated directory, The Language and Poetry of Flowers. Her handbook acts as a snapshot in time telling us the meanings of flowers in the years preceding the construction of Insole Court. She also creates her own interesting and often amusing bouquets!

For example:

Narcissus, scarlet, geranium, marigold.
“Your self-love and stupidity excite my pity”

Here are a few flowers you may find in our grounds and historic mansion house.

One of the earliest spring flowers which you can spot at Insole Court is the crocus. According to Dumont the crocus symbolised youth.

Frances Osgood mentions the crocus under the heading ‘Smiles’ with this accompanying poem, in her edited book The Poetry of Flowers, 1863.

Then from my heart will young petals diverge, As rays of the sun from their focus; I from the darkness of earth shall emerge, A happy and beautiful Crocus!
-Mrs H. F. Goud

As the national flower of Wales, the daffodil is seen everywhere. Most of us remember Wordsworth's lines on the joy of seeing a host of golden daffodils. In the symbolic language of flowers, however, daffodil, not unlike Narcissus, represented 'self-love'.

Another of the earliest flowers of spring, it can be seen gracing our gardens as well as our drawing room at Insole Court.

In the Victorian period it was thought to symbolise both meekness and virtue. Dumont choses these poems to accompany her entry on the primrose:

The Primrose pale is Nature's meek and modest child.

The Primrose, tenant of the glade,
Emblem of virtue in the shade.
-John Mayne.

Violets are another spring flower. Thought to symbolise friendship, these little blooms add a drop of deeper colour to Insole Court’s gardens.

This Valentine’s card from the 1870s shows just how much the meanings behind flowers was in the forefront of the Victorian imagination.

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

Our own Violet Insole was a horticulturalist and many of the stunning flowers in our gardens, in particular the irises and alpines, can be attributed to her great love and care.

The iris is often thought to symbolise a message. Named after Iris in Greek mythology, the goddess of the rainbow and messenger to the gods, because of the iris’s beautiful colours.

Although out of season, irises are one of our great triumphs here at Insole Court. Violet Insole won many awards for her introduction of new iris varieties. Come back and see us in the summer to witness some historical Violet Insole irises which have been brought back to life.

Roses are Red...

The red rose is a very common symbol of beauty and love and continues to be a traditional Valentine gift. New growth is beginning on our roses in the gardens but the full blooms can be spotted in our reading room frieze painted by Fred Weeks.

Dumont refers to an ancient fable, in her description of the red rose, which attributes the red colour to blood shed from Venus’s foot, cut on a rose as she rushed to save Adonis.

Which on the White Rose being shed,
Made it for ever after red.
-Robert Herrick

The tulip is one of the earliest and most colourful flowers of spring. It can also be spotted in our stunning carved woodwork. The tulip, originally from Turkey, caused such a stir when it was introduced to Europe the saga was dubbed ‘Tulip Mania’.

Not one of Flora's brilliant race
A form more perfect can display:
Art could not feign more simple grace,
Nor Nature take a line away.
Yet, rich as morn, of many a hue,
When flushing clouds through darkness strike,
The Tulip's petals shine in dew,
All beautiful, but none alike.

If you want to do something a little different with your partner this Valentine’s Day why not come and visit met in our romantic setting and take a stroll through our Victorian mansion and gardens. Enjoy the floral offerings in our grounds and elaborate wood and stone work.

Take this guide with you to uncover the secret meanings behind our beautiful blooms.

Here’s a few more you may find in our grounds and house interpreted by Dumont to help you craft your bouquet.

Box tree – stoicism
Cherry tree – good education
Basil- hate
Clematis – artifice
Daisy – innocence
Hawthorn – Hope
Hyacinth – game, play
Rose – love
Rosemary – your presence revives me
Plum tree – keep your promises
Snowdrop – hope
Tulip – declaration of love
Violet – modesty
Thistle – Surliness
Thyme - activity
Sage – esteem
Willow – mourning
Anemone – forsaken
Acanthus- the arts
Moss – maternal love

Don’t forget to tweet us your unique creation!

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