Talking Flowers: A Valentine's Day Guide to Flowers and Their Meaning

4 years ago
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In addition to their diverse beauty, flowers also say different things. In Victorian times, when flirtation and conversation was discouraged, lovers exchanged flowers and nosegays in discretion, to convey messages through symbolic meaning. So pick something that really speaks to your love. Here's what some of my favorites say:

Image: Tomoyuki Kawashima via Flickr

For me, flowers are always a perfect gift. I love them in all of their beautiful forms. Well, almost all. And at Valentine's Day, in the bleak of winter, they are a welcome sight. But having been a floral designer for many years I know the inflated prices this holiday and the myopia surrounding the red rose. The thing is, you don't have to buy roses. I would rather not have red roses at Valentine's Day. Don't get me wrong, I love roses, but there are so many more interesting, more unique, more fragrant, and more personal options to choose from.

More personal? In addition to their diverse beauty, flowers also say different things. In Victorian times, when flirtation and conversation between lovers was discouraged, flowers and nosegays were exchanged in discretion, to convey messages through the flowers' symbolic meaning. So pick something that really speaks to your love. Here's what some of my favorites say:


Ranunculus Means You Are Radiant

Image: WickerFurniture via Flickr

One of my favorites, ranunculus seem a mix of miniature peonies, garden roses, and cabbage. Perfectly round, opening to a frilly and almost poppy-like shape, they speak of radiance. They are available in an extraordinary array of warm hues. A truly happy and pretty flower. Make sure you get these from a good florist, though, because lesser-quality blooms can be diminutive. These look great tucked in with other flowers, en masse, or even all alone as their stems have an interesting form too.


Anemone Means Anticipation

Image: GreenMarlin via Flickr

The anemone is such a striking flower, with black velvety centers popping amidst saturated petals in shades of blue, periwinkle, purple, fuchsia, pink, red, and white. There is also a white version with a green center that is beautiful. The stems are straight and leafless, except for a frilly collar of leaves just below the blossom, making this a great stand-alone flower for a bud vase. But don't get me wrong -- they are beautiful in bunches, or mixed in bouquets or arrangements.


Peony Means Devotion

Image: Noe** via Flickr

It doesn't get much better than peonies. Any color, anytime. I'm in. Devotion? Let's not mince words: addiction, in my case. The big, round buds turn to bowls of petals, full of layers of ruffles and a light but sweet scent. They come in all of the warm hues, moving from white to the palest, feminine pinks to dark, crimson reds. One of the more intriguing is a coral peony, which starts as a big, bold orangey-pink ball, brightly opening to reveal a yellow center. It then fades over a few days, transforming to pale peach. It's hard to go wrong with peonies, but they aren't always in season, which perhaps adds to their luxury.


Hyacinth Means Constancy of Love

Image: Liz West via Flickr

Scent. For me, it's the name of the game. If I am going to buy myself flowers, I almost always buy something with scent -- and the hyacinth is a force to be reckoned with. While not a large flower, it is one of the most fragrant. A few stems will fill the room with the delectably sweet, fresh scent of spring. These are my go-to flower in January and February, because just walking into a room with them reminds me of warmer days to come and helps me shake winter. They come in a variety of colors: lavenders, purples, pinks, peach, pale yellow, white, and my favorite, a deep rich magenta-plum. And the best part? They last for quite a while.


Sweet Pea Means Bliss

Image: Penelope Waits via Flickr

Bliss, exactly. The sweet pea, for me, is the ultimate in frivolous luxury. They are diminutive, to be sure. But the little butterfly, fluttery, rounded petals that dance upon squiggly stems are steeped in a light but spicy-sweet scent. And they are so pretty and feminine. And the colors... pinks, purples, magentas, lavenders, reds, corals -- some are even speckled with other colors. Sadly, though, they do not last all that long. But for a moment, they are utter bliss.


Lilac Means First Love

Image: Susana Fernandez via Flickr

Nothing compares to lilac. Lilac is like first love. Its sweet scent is so true and jubilant and is cast with such abandon, that for a moment, nothing else exists. Known for its hue, it ranges through the purples from pure white and ivory to the deepest magentas and plums. Sadly, it can be fragile. But is everything while it lasts.


Tulip Means Declaration of Love

Image: Ryan Somma via Flickr

The superlative tulip. The beauty of the tulip is its simplicity. It is beautiful all on its own. A bunch of tulips is always appropriate, always elegant, and really hard to mess up. They come in so many different colors and color combinations, and I really can't think of one that I wouldn't like. Though if you want to kick it up a notch, my favorites are parrot tulips (pictured above), peony tulips, french tulips, double tulips, or lily-flowering tulips. You can't go wrong whichever you choose, so go for it, declare your love.


Hydrangea Means Playfulness

Image: Takashi.M via Flickr

Hydrangeas truly are crowd pleasers. Just look at those big balls of color, especially that magenta-purple one, pow. They are best when in a big mounded bunch or mixed with other flowers. They come in a wide array of colors: greens, whites, purples, blues, pinks, reds, even brownish-plums. Their one drawback is that they can sometimes be temperamental. You can generally gauge their demeanor by feeling the flower head. If it is firm, the flowers will last; if it's smooshy, beware. (Tip: If the flowers crash, soak the whole flower head in a bowl of cool water for five minutes, shake off the water gently, and recut the stem underwater; then give it a little while to perk up.)


Orchid Means Exotic Beauty

Image: Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ via Flickr

It is pretty hard to go wrong with orchids. They are the largest group of flowers in existence, and have been around for thousands of years. Did you know that vanilla is from the bean of an orchid? Orchids are, themselves, exotic beauties. So many different varieties, different shapes, different sizes, different colors. The most common species for cut flowers are the dendrobiums, mokaras, and cymbidiums, though you can get phalaenopsis, lady slippers, oncidiums, and cattleyas from a good florist. Am I speaking Greek at this point? Well, Latin, I guess. The short and sweet: They are all beautiful -- and, better yet, they will all last for quite a while. A very special flower.


Rose Means Love or Friendship

Image: sunshine city via Flickr

If you just can't bear Valentine's Day without bearing roses, it's okay. Roses are absolutely beautiful. Just beware of the price, and beware of the lesser priced -- these may not be the best quality and may not last very long. (Tip: Squeeze the head of the rose to test its firmness. If it is firm, and not like a rock, it will last, if it feels hollow and soft it won't last very long.)

There are so many beautiful colors of roses, of course the reds, but pinks, whites, lavenders, yellow, orange, green, peach, and mixtures therein... and here is where it gets complicated. Different colors have different meanings. Pink roses mean "friendship," red roses mean "love," white roses mean "I am worthy of you," and lavender roses mean "enchantment." If you really want to make a statement though, you can choose my favorite roses, garden roses (like the picture above.) These are the most beautiful and most fragrant roses, the scent will knock you over, really. Standard (tea) roses do not even compare as far as scent goes. Garden roses open round and full of ruffles of petals, appearing very similar to peonies, as they have many more petals than tea roses. They are however, probably hard to find, unless you go to a very good florist. And they are expensive. But, wow, they are a treat -- you can practically taste their fruity, sweet scent.

I hope this helps you find something that really speaks to your love. What would you pick?

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