Floriography is the official and quite lovely word to describe the ancient art of communicating with flowers.
Flowers have been symbolically used for thousands of years to send messages – even to this day we send a bunch of blooms to say ‘I love you’, ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Congratulations’ or ‘I’m sorry’.
It was during Victorian times that the practise of ‘saying it with flowers’ became really popular. In an era where politeness was taken to the extreme and it was almost a hanging offence to show a bit of ankle, public displays of affection were a definite no-no. Lovers used to send cryptic messages coded within a beautiful bouquet, which would be deciphered with a ‘floral dictionary’. How romantic is that! These days the only cryptic thing in our communication is when autocorrect takes over our text messages.
I am mesmerised daily by the raw beauty of Australia, a simple walk around the block with the dog will reveal hundreds of plants and flowers that are out of this world. I could probably name about 0.01% of them (the Bird of Paradise is hubby’s favourite so I’ve got that one covered) so I decided it was high time I did some research. Everyone knows that roses traditionally stand for love. Rosemary is for remembrance. Lilies are for grief and rebirth. But what of our native flora and fauna? What language do they speak? Is it the same as the traditional Olde English flower language except with a lot of shortening of words and going up at the end of sentences? It was time to find out.
I threw my question with wild abandon at the internet and came up with the goods almost instantly – in the form of a PDF of a book written in 1891 entitled ‘The Language of Australian Flowers’ by George Robertson and Company, from the State Library of Victoria website.
I knew I was onto a winner when I read the following in the introduction
‘….no more shall ardent youths ransack musty tomes for prim words to express the burning sentiments of affection and love which seem too deep for utterance. They shall speak the Language of Nature’.
and what followed was 27 pages of Australian plants and their deepest meanings. Perfect! I’ve often considered myself an ‘ardent youth’.
I’ve found everything I need….
….I thought for about 5 seconds until I realised I had found a gem of a resource for someone with an established – or at least foundation – knowledge of the subject. As it stood I had a list of 200 native plants with no idea whether they would look good in a posy or were actually gum trees 50feet tall (not too practical to find a vase for).
It was time to call in the real experts.
This time I had no need to consult Dr Google. For me, when it comes to florists, there is only one place you need to call – and that’s Moxom and Whitney. They are located in Braddon, ACT. They specialise in fresh, beautiful and unique, and they are working on getting Ryan Gosling as their delivery guy (it’s just taking a little longer than expected).
I called up for a quick chat with one of the founding duo – Loulou, to get some translation on my list of Aussie wonders.
Me: I’m writing a blog about the language of Aussie flowers and I need some inspiration on what natives to use for each occasion – can you tell me if any of these would suit
Loulou: Go for it!
Me: Clematis. Clemartis? Clematiss? Clamatisse? How the hell do you even say that one.
Loulou: That’s Clematis! It’s a beautiful flowering vine – it’s such a shame it’s name sounds like a nasty fungal infection in your vagina.
Loulou: Are you still there?
Me: (still trying to catch my breath) it symbolises pure love! Maybe we’ll pick another one…..
I threw some more flowers at Loulou and she gave me some brilliant advice. But what became more striking throughout our conversation was not just her knowledge of the plants she works with, but also her sheer passion for them. And her no nonsense approach to floristry – which in her opinion needs to be accessible, honest, fresh and a little bit rock and roll.
‘Fresh is as fresh does’ she told me. ‘You’ve got to treat the flowers properly to get the best results or you’ll just get crapola (when she informed me that it was the Spanish word for sh*t, I knew I’d found the right lady for teaching me the language of flowers)
I think the freshest thing about dealing with Moxom and Whitney – apart from their incredible quality blooms – was the refreshing attitude taken by all the staff. There is no ego to be found here. The displays are not untouchable or over the top – everything is real and full of personality. They really listen to what you want and provide the perfect translation.
When I asked Loulou for her top native recommendations she helped me translate some of George Robertson’s list. We chose to ignore a few of the later ones in the book – although the Forked Comb Fern (meaning – you blow your horn too loudly) or the Tree Fern (meaning – you repel me) – could come in quite useful at times. Here is what we came up with.
Whatever the occasion you are looking for there is a native to suit and Moxom & Whitney are the ones to deliver. Check out some of their creations below. If you need flowers for a special occasion, or just because, then call them now.
The language of flowers is truly a beautiful thing. The language of florists? Well that’s another story….