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Lessons in Wedding Planning: choosing your flowers

15 Sep 2016

Bride-to-be Jessica Phillipson is back with a lesson on how to choose wedding flowers, pointing out the hidden meanings behind those to avoid

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Image gallery

Hello fellow brides-to-be,

I’ve never been particularly ‘into’ flowers – I think they look pretty and I like having them around, but I don’t think about them too much. I certainly had no preference as to what flowers I wanted for my wedding.

So I was quite surprised to learn that flowers have meanings – and not always positive ones.

The language of flowers – a history

Flowers have had different meanings in different countries around the world for thousands of years. A ‘language of flowers’ has developed via the giving and receiving of flowers, often to express thoughts and feelings that are too difficult to put into words.

It is commonly believed that the language of flowers as we recognise it today has its roots in Constantinople in the 1600s, but it didn’t reach England’s shores until 1716. Lady Mary Wortley Montague, wife of the English ambassador to Turkey, saw the language of flowers in action at the Sultan’s court and brought the tradition back home.

The language of flowers grew in popularity in England, reaching its peak in Victorian times when it became a discreet way for men and women to communicate (both with each other and between themselves).

The flowers had meaning, but their position on the body also meant something. For example, wearing a marigold in the hair expressed mental anguish, while the same flower pinned to the chest conveyed indifference.

The first flower dictionary was written in 1819 by Parisian Charlotte de la Tour. A Victorian lady, Miss Corruthers of Inverness, wrote a book on the language of flowers in 1879 and many similar books have been written since – Mandy Kirkiby’s The Language of Flowers is one I flicked through in Waterstones recently.

I’m not a particularly superstitious person, but when I found out that one of the flowers my florist suggested – anemones – meant forgotten love, I paused for thought. After some research, I discovered this symbolism is mostly believed in Eastern cultures, whereas in Western cultures the same flower means protection against evil, ill wishes and disease. Many flowers have multiple meanings, so this isn’t an unusual discovery. I’m still not sure whether to take a chance on those anemones, though.

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Flowers to avoid

The type and colour of flowers you choose is very personal and there are so many to choose from. This blog is more of a ‘what not to choose’, or at least something to consider. The list below is just a few that stood out to me as being particularly negative – and there are some surprises in there.

Abatina – though a very pretty yellow flower with exquisite patterns on the inner petals, its meaning is fickleness, the opposite of what wedding vows mean.

Belladonna – it may look pretty, but not only is it toxic, it also means silence. Deathly silence.

Borage – usually blue in colour, these flowers are also called starflowers due to their fun shape, but don’t be fooled. Their meaning is far from starry – they symbolise bluntness and abruptness, two things you’ll be hoping to avoid on your wedding day.

Calendula – another bright and sunny flower with a seemingly opposite meaning; grief, despair and sorrow.

Carnation – a popular flower in bouquets whatever the occasion, but except the colours red and white, they have a variety of negative meanings, including refusal, disappointment and rejection.

Heather – you would think they would make a lovely decoration, especially if you’re going for a rustic/meadow look, but heather means loneliness – something you won’t be feeling with your new husband or wife by your side.

Hydrangea – these are sometimes used to create small, neat bouquets for bridesmaids, even though hydrangeas symbolise heartlessness, which I’m sure your bridesmaids aren’t (see my blog on choosing your bridesmaids).

Primrose – another favourite for cute bridesmaids bouquets perhaps, but these represent sadness, which should be nowhere near your wedding day.

Rose – shock and horror, surely not the rose? Shakespeare used roses in reference to love all the time and these flowers are traditionally associated with love (who else has kept their fingers crossed for a bouquet of 12 come Valentine’s Day?). But those are red roses. Yellow roses signify infidelity and betrayal.

Tulip – similar to roses, the beautiful and popular tulip can also change meaning with colour. Avoid white or yellow, which mean hopeless or one-sided love.

If you are superstitious or particularly care about symbolism on your big day (and more traditional weddings will be loaded with symbolic moments), then fear not – most florists are clued up on the language of flowers and will be able to direct you. Alternatively, you can just shrug and pick your favourites – they’re just pretty plants, right?

Or go fake!

Far from the tacky fake flowers you associate with old lady’s homes, silk flowers are becoming an increasingly attractive option for weddings. Not only are you guaranteed perfect blooms on the day, but you can choose whatever flowers you like, regardless of the season. Silk flowers can also be kept long after the day as a reminder of your wedding.

And, if you want flowers you can keep, why not consider paper flowers? I saw one wedding where the couple had fallen in love over a mutual love of comic books, so they used pages of comic books to make a paper flower bouquet, just like the buttonholes at this wedding. Alternatively, you could use pages from your favourite love story or poetry – it’s such a wonderful way to personalise your wedding.

Happy flower picking!

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