How to create a Valentine’s Day bouquet that represents love, friendship
If your prose is not worthy of a Wordsworth, there is another way to compose a sonnet to your lover — through the hidden language of flowers.
Imagine a bouquet where each stem conveys a specific meaning so that the entire arrangement is a three-dimensional love letter.
For some 20 years, Santa Cruz floral designer and grower Teresa Sabankaya has been composing botanical poems for clients in this secret language.
Red roses for centuries have been recognized as a symbol of eros. But beyond red, the language of flowers is even more nuanced. A deep pink rose means gratitude. A lavender rose says enchantment or love at first sight. A bouquet of yellow and red roses signifies passionate thoughts and desire.
And it’s not just roses that speak in this historic language, which reached an apex in the ultra-romanticism of Victorian times.
Add a little moss and your feelings are secret. Clarkia is an invitation for a dance. Give a variegated dahlia and you’re saying “I think of you constantly.” Choose a yellow dahlia instead and you change the meaning of your message to “I am happy you love me.”
Small flower bouquets that convey messages in the language of flowers are called posies, and they are a signature specialty for Sabankaya, a pioneer in the Slow Flower movement and founder of the Bonny Doon Garden Co. in Santa Cruz County.
Over the years, Sabankaya has consulted numerous references and dictionaries that ascribed symbolic meaning to flowers. She became fluent in floriography — the cryptic communication through the use or arrangements of flowers. Several months ago she published “The Posy Book”
(W.W. Norton), which includes a history of the language of flowers and directions for composing meaningful posies that carry a variety of messages from congratulations to sympathy.
She also included a comprehensive dictionary of flower meanings and added new flowers and meanings to incorporate varieties that didn’t exist in the 19th century.
Anyone can use the language to create their own posies, Sabankaya said, whether to express friendship, affection for a relative, sympathy or congratulations or to passionately declare love and devotion. Choose flowers that convey your sentiments and include a note to explain the meaning of each stem.
“Using the language of flowers creates an opportunity for people to really think about their feelings,” Sabankaya said. “Rather than a quick text or tweet or Facebook message, you’re using flowers to create messages and convey sentiments.
There is no other object, she maintained, with the ability to replace words quite so eloquently as flowers.
Throughout history, flowers have been used as symbols. Even before written language, ancient cultures, including Native Americans, used plants and animals to convey thoughts and tell stories.
But the language of flowers that was so popular in Victorian times, Sabankaya said, is thought to stem from a Turkish practice during the Ottoman Empire called selam, or the gifting of a box of objects, each of which carried a rhyme that conveyed a meaning. One Austrian historian in the 19th century theorized that the practice might have been created as a secret form of communication among women in a harem.