Flowers have carried hidden meanings throughout history, from playful hints of courtship to surreptitious sentiment. Indeed, they have been used to communicate love for centuries; Robert Burns (1794) famously compared romance to A Red, Red Rose, while Edmund Spenser crafted what would become a quintessential Valentine’s cliché, Roses are Red, as far back as 1590.
Inhibited by propriety, Victorians used the secret language of flowers to share their innermost thoughts. Curiously, they only dared to express themselves with words on Valentine’s Day - penning elaborate outpourings of devotion in secretly posted homemade cards. Yet Valentine’s is one of the few occasions where we still honour the love language of flowers today.
Jessica Roux, author of Floriography, An Illustrated Guide to the Victorian Language of Flowers, explains the societal pressures of the Victorian era provided an opportunity for the language of flowers to flourish: “Coded messages of affection, longing, loss, and even anger, hid in plain sight and allowed Victorians to show their emotions in an alluring display.”
Jessica reveals that it was possible to combine flowers to enhance meanings, creating small arrangements of two or three different blooms called tussie-mussies:
“Simple things like a desire to court (blush roses for a blossoming romance with cornflower for hope), or an apology from a rebuffed lover (hyacinth to ask for forgiveness with bluebells for humility) could be created.”
Carpe Diem with flowers
Long before the Victorians were busy finding loopholes around polite society, the Romans were inspired by the ancient Greeks’ commitment to floral symbolism.
Frank Broek, co-owner of Sebastian Flowers and designer of the breathtaking arrangements at Hotel de Russie, has long been enchanted by ancient Rome’s relationship with flowers when blooms were used to express passion, power, status, and love.
“Roses were a favourite symbol of desire and secrecy. Romans would put roses in their bedrooms to represent the love and beauty that Venus was known for, and Roman emperors were known for filling their bathtubs with rose petals.”
With modern society largely disconnected from flower meanings, Frank is keen to promote more interest in floriography: “By exploring the history of flower symbolism, the language of flowers, their significance in ancient societies, and the meanings of specific flowers, we can gain a deeper appreciation for this ancient tradition. It would be great to bring this back.”
Carpeted in meaning
Damien Overputte is co-founder of DO-Flowers and the creative behind the elegant floral design at Hotel Amigo in Brussels, a city with a rich history of flowers: “Here we have the country's only flower auction, the Euroveiling, the globally recognised Flower Carpet, and the Grand Place is host to an abundant flower and plant market. Even the city’s emblem is a flower - an iris.”
Damien reminds us that the language of flowers is fluid: “Each culture adopts its own definition of flowers, sometimes at the expense of their beauty. The chrysanthemum, which in Belgium is associated with All Saints' Day, is a flower for the dead. In Japan, however, it is the emblem of the imperial family – a 'royal' flower used for weddings or very select events.”
Favourite Valentine’s blooms
According to Damien, the red rose remains the flower of choice, despite not being a flower of the season: “A sumptuous mix of love and passion, with velvety petals and vivid colour in this dark and cold period. Then come tulips, or the anemone, a romantic flower, marking the beginning of its season.” For an alternative bouquet, he recommends “tulips, anemones, ranunculus, and wonderfully scented hyacinths, adorned with wax flowers and seasonal greenery like myrtillus (blueberry).”
Frank suggests Valentine’s gives us pause for thought in choosing romantic blooms: “The flowers you give convey different meanings, ranging from admiration to eternal love. So before selecting a bloom to gift to your loved ones, make sure you know the symbolism behind it. By being thoughtful about your selection, you can tell friends how much you admire them – and let your significant other know just how much they mean to you.”
Whatever bouquet you choose for your lucky Valentine, pair it with a Rocco Forte Hotel Gift Experience they’ll love.
You may also like
You can do a lot in three minutes. Brew a cup of tea. Listen to Golden Slumbers by The Beatles, twice. Or share an unhurried farewell kiss at Waverley Station under the dutiful timekeeping of the Balmoral Clock.
Along Italy's picturesque southern coastline from Puglia to Sicily, three of our hotels awaken to embrace the arrival of spring. From rolling countryside hills to the sugary shores of inviting beaches, each retreat exudes its own distinct charm, offering an array of experiences for guests to discover…
Travel. It’s one of life’s great pleasures. Indeed, it’s been said that it is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer. And we all know that sightseeing is wonderful, enriching even. But so is having an amazing suite to return to – or never leave. Join us on a voyage of discovery through three of our most inspiring and artistic suites, where creativity and design effortlessly coexist. Stunning views, architectural wonders and unique layouts make staying in these suites an experience hard to forget.