Victorian Flower Dictionary

Here’s a recent find I’m wondering if I should add to my already sprouting spring to-read list …


Photo courtesy of

“Daffodils signal new beginnings; daisies, innocence. Lilacs mean the first emotions of love; periwinkles, tender recollection. Early Victorians used flowers as a way to express their feelings—love or grief, jealousy or devotion,” writes author Mandy Kirby. “Now, modern-day romantics are enjoying a resurgence of this bygone custom, and this book will share the historical, literary, and cultural significance of flowers with a whole new generation.”


Periwinkle photo by Ulhaspa via Wikimedia Commons

As I mentioned in my geraniums post, 19th-century Victorians were smitten with flowers and employed them as a more complex form of expression than any known culture that came before.

A Victorian Flower Dictionary offers the lush, illustrated history of 50 beloved blooms, detailing the characteristics attributed by Victorian enthusiasts. It also contains suggestions for creating expressive arrangements, whatever your intention.

If you have this one in your collection, I’d love to hear your impressions.


Leave a comment 6 Comments

  1. I collect antique and vintage garden books. While I do not have this one, I have several other sweet books on the “language of flowers”. The Kate Greenaway edition from 1884 is the most charming with her dear pastel paintings of children and flowers. She chose the fashions of the early 1800’s for her illustrations of happy cherubic children in bonnets and ribbons . They are always depicted in outdoor nature. She listed hundreds of flowers -and even poems about them, more than any book on this subject I’ve ever seen. I have 2 editions of this classic book .” A bouquet of Flowers ” by Barbara Milo Ohrbach has a large section on the ” language of flowers” as well as charmingly illustrated garden quotes , herbal recipes and more. There are scads of other garden books which make mention of this lost art of communication through posies. Read Jane Austen for actual examples in her novels for instance. Thanks for sharing this new book MaryJane.

    • Karlyne says:

      I’d love to see the Kate Greenaway one! I have the slim paperback “Ancient Legends of the twelve Birth Flowers”, published in 1986, that I’m sure I got at a yard sale or used book store. I seem to remember paying about a quarter for it!

      I have a memory of a murder mystery being solved by the meaning of a bouquet of flowers, but I don’t remember the who/what/where of it.

  2. Winnie Nielsen says:

    My sister loves flowers and making arrangements. This book would be so perfect for her. I am off to Amazon to see if I can purchase it as a surprise. Thanks!!

  3. oooh Karlyne, that flower bouquet mystery sounds so interesting! Thought it might be ” Flowers for the Judge” by Margery Allingham written in the 30’s ,but it is not ,sorry to say. Will keep searching. Also love the Susan Wittig Albert herbal mysteries. Kate Greenaway was well known as a children’s book illustrator, and her books are still to be found in the originals and reprints as well. Should be fairly easy to find.

    • Karlyne says:

      I’ll keep thinking about it, and no doubt it’ll come to me in the middle of the night! I re-read my Allinghams fairly often, by the way; I Love the Golden Age of Mysteries!

  4. I just looked at my favorite online source of books, (part of ebay,) and they have many, many Kate Greenaway books , ( newer reprints ) most for $.75 !! ( plus shipping). Go have fun!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *