The Darkness in the Language of Flowers with Shannon Morgan

by Shannon Morgan

The Language of Flowers is a deceptive term; a form of communication neither written nor spoken; inferred, and largely secret. Today, we delight in flowers— their colours, brightness and fragrance. We nurture our gardens for pleasure alone. A vase of flowers brings cheer to the drabbest room and soothes the saddest heart. Weaving a daisy chain is a charming childhood pastime…

Flowers express our love, our wishes for good health, our humble apologies, sympathies and heartfelt gratitude.

But step back in time to the Victorian era when flowers spoke to us in a different language. Dictated by the strict codes of societal conduct, deep emotions simmered, thwarted, beneath the surface of polite expressions, none daring to reveal how they truly felt.

Instead, they turned to floriography—the language of flowers—to express their secret adorations, burning desires, their discontent, jealousy, and their hatred.

Let us stroll, as they did, down that darker garden path lined with lovely nasties…

To avoid mixed messages, confusion and hurt, be wary when next selecting a floral token based on beauty alone. For the love of all things unholy, only give thorn apple blossoms to someone whose charms are deceitful, and certainly never foxglove declaring one’s insincerity (not to mention it’s high toxicity). To avoid a slap across the face, don’t offer yellow carnations; no one likes to be rejected.

Receiving a spray of orange lilies, so flamboyant in colour and boisterous is fragrance, would’ve been a torment for a Victorian. For buried beneath that luscious fragrance and joyful orangeness was a simple message: hatred and a desire to humiliate.

Who doesn’t love roses? They are the epitome of the romantic gesture, as varied in colour and size as they are in meaning, expressing love in its many forms. Red, of course, means I love you … but a dark red rose is love unrequited. Yellow roses are given by the jealous lover, while a faithless love might receive yellow roses when news of their infidelity becomes known. A scorned lover could send black roses to the one who spurned them: a secret declaration of revenge.

But not only the colour of roses hold meaning. A thornless rose conveys early attachment. A dried white rose has a rather prim message of preferring death before the loss of virtue. Red and white roses can signal either unity or war, depending on the nature of the relationship.

Wander through any graveyard and you’ll see the ubiquitous yew tree and witch-hazel representing sorrow, perhaps a cypress for despair or lovely, poisonous laburnum for the forsaken. There’ll be flowers on the graves; the most usual being white lilies for purity, and daffodils for rebirth, or daisies on a child’s grave, an expression of innocence. A number of flowers represent death and grief, such a lilies of the valley, red poppies and chrysanthemums.

But beware the purple splash of petunias on a lonely grave, for not even the death of an enemy could sway the anger and resentment still felt for its occupant. And give a wide berth to the grave adorned with wild tansy. Those bright yellow button blooms have an aggressive meaning: ‘I declare war on you’. If ever there was a warning of a potential haunting, it would be the restless soul beneath the sod adorned in tansy with a still living enemy who has a long memory.

Hateful messages in flowers are often conveyed by the humblest flowers. The common little buttercup symbolises infidelity while white cherry is for deception. Pretty crocus begs not to be abused. Even useful basil should only be given to someone loathed. Some flowers have frightful messages like the current which states ‘Thy frown will kill me’ or sweetbrier who wounds to heal, and Japan Rose rather cruelly declares ‘Beauty is your only attraction’. And with a name like scabious, it’s not surprising it means unfortunate love.

There’s no need for duels at dawn when a posy of flowers speaks volumes to one’s rival. Wild tansies, as already mentioned, declare war without the need of bloodshed. The wild liquorice or belvedere make the milder claim, ‘I declare against you’. But prepare for battle if York and Lancaster roses are received, announcing outright war. Whortleberry is a worthy message for a double-crossing adversary or rocket that states simply rivalry. And for one truly loathed, a sprig of hemlock promises, ‘I will be the death of you.’

No matter the message you wish to convey, be it an expression of love or a declaration of hate, do not be swayed by a bloom’s beauty alone. If you really want to impress or frighten, unravel the code in the Language of Flowers and make your floral message all the more pleasing … or menacing, expressing all you dare not say aloud.

Francine Thwaite has lived all her fifty-five years in her family’s ancestral home, a rambling Elizabethan manor in England’s Lake District. No other living soul resides there, but Francine isn’t alone. There are ghosts in Thwaite Manor, harmless and familiar. Most beloved is Bree, the mischievous ghost girl who has been Francine’s companion since childhood.

When Francine’s estranged sister, Madeleine, returns to the manor after years away, she brings with her a story that threatens everything Francine has always believed. It is a tale of cruelty and desperation, of terror and unbearable heartache. And as Francine learns more about the darkness in her family’s past—and the role she may have played in it—she realizes that confronting the truth may mean losing what she holds most dear.

As moving and poignant as it is chilling, Her Little Flowers is a story of grief and enduring love—and of the haunting regrets only forgiveness can dispel.