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Revealed: the secret language of wedding flowers

Written by Katie Byrne, published 2nd mar 2017

Take inspiration from the tradition of choosing your blooms according to their secret meanings

Although we heard Kate Middleton say very little on her wedding day, for those in the know she was actually speaking volumes. 

For when she started her planning, she decided to use as her inspiration a little-known Victorian practice known as The Language of Flowers. So, while certain royal boxes were ticked - a ceremony at Westminister Abbey, dignitaries from around the world in attendance and a reception at Buckingham Palace, she was still very much able to put her own stamp on the day. Whether she was in dress discussions with designer Sarah Burton, making requests to her florist or meeting with the cake maker, the theme ran all the way through the wedding.

The language of flowers - or floriography - has been around for centuries in many different cultures, but it became particularly popular in Victorian times, when a repressed society led to coded messages being sent via a posy of flowers.

The meanings behind your wedding flowers

Each bloom had a silent meaning, saying words that could not be spoken, and sentiments could even be conveyed by how a flower was stood, which others it was grouped with, which hand it was presented in...

Meanings of the individual blooms were often chosen because of the characteristics they displayed - so mimosa stood for modesty because it closes its leaves at night. Meanwhile, a huge array of messages could be epxressed very simply - purple hyacinths showed begging for forgiveness, narcissi meant affection returned, cyclamen stood for goodbye, and pussy willow for motherhood.

When Kate started researching for her wedding, the practice appealed to her, and as well as selecting her floral displays for the Abbey and the Palace accordingly, she also requested 17 different edible flowers to be included by cake-maker Fiona Cairns. "It was all her idea," Fiona later revealed. "Each flower had a meaning to her, and every part of the cake was personal".

Iconic celebrity wedding bouquets throughout the decades

Lily of the valley symbolises the return of happiness and were iced onto the cake, as well as being used in the bouquet, along with Sweet Williams in tribute to her groom. Roses for England, daffodils for Wales, thistles for Scotland and shamrocks for Northern Ireland were all incorporated into the lace of Kate's wedding dress, while her parents commissioned a pair of acorn-designed earrings representing the oaks of her native Berkshire, which she also wore on her big day.

Florist Shane Connolly carried through the theme, using for the bouquet, at Kate's request, hyacinths for contancy and ivy for fidelity, as well as a sprig of mytrle from a bush planted by Queen Victoria.

Although not all of us have access to Queen Victoria's myrtle, the practice of letting the flowers do the talking is still alive and well, and may well be a way to imbue meaning to even the simplest of table settings, a carefully selected floral crown, or a single buttonhole.

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