The Victorian Art and Language of Flower Arranging
In the time-travel romantic comedy, "Kate & Leopold" (2001),
Hugh Jackman's character, a Victorian duke, pays particular attention to the type of flowers to choose for a lady,
and admonishes a young friend who casually
picks out a bouquet at a flower store for his date. Similarly, in the BBC miniseries, "Wives and Daughters" (1999),
hopeful lover Roger Hamley asks Molly Gibson to choose a flower from a bouquet he gathered for her, as a pledge to him.
Molly's choice of a red rose for Roger ultimately signifies something more than a random choice based on
fragrance or appearance.
The Victorians were familiar with various meanings that were associated to
different flowers, such that a bouquet often conveyed an understood meaning to the recipient.
For example, ivy conveyed fidelity, and was therefore a popular filler for a bride's bouquet.
Sometimes a specific colors of a specific flower had different meanings as well. A red rose meant love, while
a yellow rose friendship. A gentleman who gave a red rose to a young lady had to be certain that the sentiment was
appropriate at their stage of the relationship. A tussie mussie, or hand-held bouquet, was often a careful, deliberate
gift during the Victorian age. The giver spent much time not only choosing the flowers, but putting together an arrangement that would convey a hidden
message. Below is a list of flowers and herbs, along with their Victorian meanings. And keep reading for
instructions on how to make your own Victorian tussie mussie or holiday centerpiece.
Almond flowers -- Hope
Anemone -- Forsaken
Balm -- Sympathy
Basil -- Best wishes
Bay leaf -- "I change but in death"
Bell flower, white -- Gratitude
Bergamot -- Irresistible
Bluebell -- Constancy
Borage -- Courage
Broom -- Humility
Campanula -- Gratitude
Carnation, red -- "Alas for my poor heart"
China rose -- Beauty always new
Chrysanthemum -- Love
Clover, four leaved -- "Be mine"
Convolvulus, major -- Extinguished hopes or eternal sleep
Coreopsis, arkansa -- Love at first sight
Cuckoo pint -- Ardour
Daffodil -- Regard
Daisy -- Innocence, new-born, "I share your sentiment"
Fennel -- Flattery
Fern -- Sincerity
Forget-Me-Not -- True love
Furze or Gorse -- Enduring affection
French Marigold -- Jealousy
Gardenia -- Ecstasy
Gentian -- Loveliness
Geranium -- "You are childish"
Hare bell -- Grief
Heartsease -- "I am always thinking of you"
Honeysuckle -- Bonds of love
Heather -- Admiration
Ice Plant -- "Your appearance freezes me"
Ivy -- Fidelity, friendship, marriage
Jasmine -- Grace
Jonquil -- "I hope for return of affection"
Lavender -- Luck, devotion
Lemon Balm -- Sympathy
Lily -- Purity, modesty
Lily of the Valley -- Purity, the return of happiness
Marigold -- Health, grief or despair
Marjoram -- Kindness, courtesy
Myrtle -- Fidelity
Oregano -- Joy
Pansy -- Loving thoughts
Periwinkle -- Happy memory
Phlox -- Agreement
Poppy, red -- Consolation
Rose, cabbage -- Ambassador of love
Rose, red -- Love
Rose, pink -- Grace, beauty
Rose, yellow -- Friendship
Rosemary -- Remembrance, constancy
Rue -- Contrition
Sage -- Gratitude, domestic virtue
Snowdrop -- Hope
Star of Bethlehem -- Purity
Sweet Pea -- Departure, tender memory
Sweet William -- Gallantry
Tuberose -- Voluptuousness
Tulip, red -- Reclamation of love
Violet -- Loyalty, modesty, humility
Violet, blue -- Faithfulness
Wormwood -- Grief
Wheat -- Riches of the continuation of life
Willow, weeping -- Mourning
Wallflower -- Fidelity
Yew -- Sorrow
How to Make a Victorian Tussie Mussie
A tussie mussie is a round nosegay bouquet comprised of several varieties of flowers. As such, the tussie mussie conveyed different messages of romantic sentiment when given from a special admirer. They were usually wrapped in a lace doily and tied with a ribbon. Later, silver tussie mussie holders became popular, and Victorian brides often walked down the aisle carrying these elaborate and beautiful bouquets. To make your own tussie mussie, you can choose fresh or silk flowers. Consider creating a fresh arrangement as a centerpiece for your next dinner party, or a silk arrangement to brighten up your home for the summer. You can make a random arrangement of flowers, as shown in the picture below, or a more formal arrangement. For a random arrangement, you can exercise your artistic creativity and place flowers in any fashion that pleases you aesthetically.
Let your personal imagination run wild! The instructions below are for a formal nosegay arrangement.
A large rose or cluster of roses
1-2 varieties of smaller "filler flowers" like Baby's breath, pansies or hydrangeas
Large, leafy stems such as violet leaves, or lamb's ears
Florist tape (or hot glue if you are using silk flowers)
Paper or cloth lace doily
1. Trim down extra leaves from your flowers so you have a clean stem to work with.
2. Begin by holding your large rose or cluster of roses. This will be the center of your bouquet and you will work around it.
3. Add your filler flowers around the rose(s), making a full circle around the center.
4. Repeat the process for your next layer of filler flowers.
5. Wrap large leaves around the arrangement, making sure not they are low enough just to frame the flowers.
6. At this point, wrap floral tape around the arrangement. If you are using silk flowers, you can hot glue the arrangement together and let it dry.
7. Wrap your lace or paper doily around the entire arrangement and tie with colorful ribbons.
8. You can also include a Victorian charm or some pretty faux pearl sprays in the arrangement.
How to Make Your Own Victorian Centerpiece
Every table can become an eye-catching display when adorned with a beautiful Victorian centerpiece. You can
use a tall candelabra or compote for this arrangement. The following project
uses winter flowers and greenery intended for a Christmas centerpiece, but you can use different flowers depending on the season.
Silk or fresh flowers such as red roses
Ivy (or other greenery)
Gold spray paint
1. Begin by spraying gold paint over paint twigs and pine cones in a well-ventilated area (preferably outdoors). Let dry.
2. Cut florist clay to fit the size of your bowl. If you are using a candelabra that does
not have a bowl for a floral
arrangement built in, use a florist bowl. If you are using a compote or a candelabra with
a place for centerpiece, then your arrangement will go
directly in the compote or center.
3. Place the florist clay inside the bowl. If you are using fresh flowers,
you will need to first soak the clay in water, and also add water to the bowl.
4. Cut ivy or greenery to size, such that they will drape down the bowl.
5. Stick stems into the florist clay along the outer edge, like a crown.
6. Cut the roses to size and add roses into the centerpiece,
beginning with the tallest rose at the top, and working in a circle, like a nosegay.
7. Stick gilded pine cones and twigs in the arrangement as desired.
8. Accent your table with red votive candles, red glass stemware, and a bowl of
sparkling red and green ornaments as a display piece.