I’ve just finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. It was an engrossing read with an interesting cast of characters. The story alternates between two time periods, and it is a credit to Diffenbaugh that it is not at all difficult for the reader to pick up the thread of each narrative.
Victoria Jones was given up at birth and moved from foster home to foster home with no constant except for a social worker who finds Victoria increasingly difficult to place. This is no wonder, since the child has never been loved by anyone. Then, she is placed with Elizabeth, a single woman who owns a vineyard, as well as a large flower garden, in a rural area north of San Francisco. Elizabeth is committed to loving the angry, solitary child despite her hostility and rude behaviour. She teaches Victoria to look after the flowers and the vines and she teaches her the language of flowers, a secret language Elizabeth had shared with her own sister during their childhood.
Victoria begins to love Elizabeth and the home they share, but it comes as no surprise that Victoria eventually manages to sabotage the relationship as the result of a misguided attempt to keep Elizabeth all to herself, and Victoria is sent to a “children’s home”. Here, she endures until her eighteenth birthday, when she is “emancipated” and sent to live in a halfway house in San Francisco for three months, during which time she must find a job. After a period of homelessness, Victoria finds her way to Bloom, a little flower shop run by a woman named Renata. Here, Victoria reconnects with flowers and the language of flowers. Eventually, this reconnection leads her full circle and enables her to find people who she can trust. Like a person who is mute because of a traumatic experience, Victoria must communicate using the language of flowers until she has healed enough to enter into close relationships with other people.
The language of flowers, sometimes called florigraphy, was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. This language was most commonly communicated through Tussie-Mussies, an art which has a following today. The nuances of the language are now mostly forgotten, but red roses still imply passionate, romantic love and pink roses a lesser affection; white roses suggest virtue and chastity and yellow roses still stand for friendship or devotion.
Diffenbaugh says on the Random House website (http://www.randomhouse.com/rhpg/features/vanessa_diffenbaugh/): “When I began The Language of Flowers, I owned only one flower dictionary: The Floral Offering: A Token of Affection and Esteem; Comprising the Language and Poetry of Flowers, written in 1859 by Henrietta Dumont. It was an ancient, crumbling hardcover, with dry flowers pressed between the pages. Scraps of poetry, collected by previous owners and stored between the yellowed pages, slipped to the floor as I scanned the book for meanings.”
- White rose—a heart unacquainted with love
- Verbena—pray for me
- Bellflower (Campanula)—gratitude
- Sweet Pea—delicate pleasures