Stories of the Garden 2

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 (  “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.”

Diffenbaugh provides a dictionary of flower meanings at the end of the novel. Looking up the few flowers that still remain in bloom in my own garden, I found the following meanings:

  • Aster—patience
  • White rose—a heart unacquainted with love
  • Verbena—pray for me
  • Bellflower (Campanula)—gratitude
  • Sweet Pea—delicate pleasures
The Language of Flowers is also the title of a sweet little book illustrated by Kate Greenaway. This book provides a cross-index so you can look up the message you want to convey in flower language, and the flower or flowers that express this thought will be listed. So, for example, if you want to let someone know that you are very, very jealous, you could send them a bouquet of French Marigolds and Yellow Roses.
The idea of a secret language reminded me of another novel I read recently: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, in which two young girls learn and develop a secret code (“nu shu” or “women’s writing) in which they communicate with each other in a correspondence that lasts throughout their lives. Nu shu is “the only gender-based written language to have been found in the world” (

"Flower Meanings", watercolour, pen & ink, 9-1/4" x 9-1/2"


5 thoughts on “Stories of the Garden 2

  1. Wow, what a beautiful post! And these meanings …

    White rose—a heart unacquainted with love
    Verbena—pray for me
    Bellflower (Campanula)—gratitude
    Sweet Pea—delicate pleasures

    I’m so pleased, delicately, to find sweet pea means this. Do you know what a tussie mussie is? I’m going to buy this book for my mother for Xmas. Thank you.


    • Many thanks for your comment. I have been following “The Truth About Truth” and enjoying its progression.

      A tussie-mussie is a little bouquet of flowers, like a nosegay (literally, makes the nose gay). Tussie-mussies were popular in Victoria times and were composed with the language of flowers in mind. These little bouquets are enjoying a revival now as wedding flowers. There are special little cone-shaped holders for the flowers (antique silver ones can be found on eBay). I hope your Mother enjoys the book.


  2. Beautiful. I tend to like books that carry multiple narratives. A couple that I’ve read include Freddy’s Book by John Gardner and The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. Do you own The Language of Flowers or did you pick it up from the library? I think I’d like to read it – I’ve been stuck in a rut of Agatha Christie murder mysteries lately. So interesting that flowers were used to convey such meanings.


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