Cara/Andrea here, There’s an old saying—‘April showers bring May flowers’ . . . which in my mind is a very Good Thing because I have a new book about to bloom in which flowers play a prominent role. In TOO TEMPTING TO RESIST, which officially releases May 1, (though many of the online stores have it available April 24th) both the hero and heroine have an interest in gardens. Eliza is a superb botanical illustrator and Gryffin—Gryff to his friends—has a secret passion for landscape design. They can speak knowledgeably on ha-ha walls, decorative follies, and ornamental planting . . . and they are also conversant in the secret language of flowers.
Flowers speak, you might ask? They do—and quite eloquently, I might add!
The concept of a language of flowers has been around from the days of antiquity. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered hawthorne blossoms a symbol hope and marriage, and it was common at wedding ceremonies. China and the Ottoman Empire had its own complex symbolism and myths, some of which were brought back to medieval Europe by the Crusaders.
But it was Lady Mary Wortley Montague who is credited with bringing the concept of a ‘language” of flowers to England in 1718. The wife of the British ambassador to Constantinople, Lady Montagu, (A fascinating woman in her own right who is credited with being the first woman to write about the Orient) penned a series of letters to friends at home describing the Turkish custom of sending messages through objects, including flowers. These letters were published as a book in 1763, shortly after her death, and explained the nuances of selam, which was a complex system by which the flower or object sent didn’t actually symbolize a concept, but rather it was a more of a word play—for example a pear would rhyme with despair, so that was the message. (Sound awfully complicated to me, but apparently the harems were hotbeds of intrigue and innuendo so it I suppose it provided a more secretive way of communicating.)
In Europe, the notion that lovers could communicate with each other through a “secret” language seemed to strike a romantic chord, and through the late 1700s and early 1800s. the concept developed into one where each individual type of bloom took on a specific meaning. One of the first books on this “floriography,” is credited Charlotte de Latour, a Frenchwoman who published a little handbook on the subject in 1819.
But the real heyday for communicating with flowers was the Victorian era. Most people were familiar with concept—and woe be to the fellow who sent his sweetheart the wrong blooms! Women often carried tiny bouquets called “tussie-mussies” on their daily outings, with which to compose little messages to the friends they would be seeing. Handbooks sprouted up in every bookshop, presenting extensive lists on the meaning of a vast array of individual flowers. (It should be pointed out that there is actually no definitive list—they all vary somewhat, though most of the standard blooms, like roses and lilies, gave come to have a universal symbolism.)
Now, we all know that a red rose means true love. But did you know that 15 red roses signifies an apology? Or that 108 red roses is a proposal of marriage. How about that a pink rose means ‘perfect happiness’ and also ‘friendship, or a rhododendron bloom symbolizes ‘beware’ or ‘danger, or a hydrangea says ‘thank you for understanding’?
Here’s a short excerpt from the beginning of TOO TEMPTING TO RESIST in which Gyff, my hero, gives a little primer on flowers to his friend Sara Hawkins, who happens to own one of London’s most notorious gaming hell and brothel.
“Oh, I’m so glad ye stopped by for a visit, sir. The Wolfhound has always said ye have a discerning eye fer art, so I’m anxious to get yer opinion on this.” Sara Hawkins stripped the last of the wrappings from around a gilt-framed watercolor painting and let out an admiring whistle. “Don’t ye think it will look lovely hanging in the Eros Bedchamber?”
Gryffin Owain Dwight, the Marquess of Haddan, shrugged out of his overcoat and came over to take a look. “You intend to hang that in there?” A dark brow shot up. “I wouldn’t advise it.”
“Why not?” Sara sounded a little crestfallen. “Roses are my favorite flower and this one is awfully pretty.”
“Indeed it is. But in the secret language of flowers, red roses symbolize love—a sentiment that would likely make a number of your patrons rather nervous,” said Gryff dryly. Patrons was putting it politely, seeing as Sara’s establishment was one of the most notorious gambling hells and brothels in London. “If you must pick a rose for a decorative touch, make it an orange one.”
“And what does that mean?”
“Fascination.” He curled a wicked smile. “Better yet, find a print of a yellow iris, which means ‘passion.’ Or sweetpea, which means ‘blissful pleasure.’”
She let out a snort of laughter.
“Or a peach blossom, which means ‘I am your captive.’”
“Fancy that.” Setting aside the painting, Sara perched a shapely hip on the sideboard and gave the marquess her full attention. “Now who would have ever guessed that flowers could talk.”
Gryff nodded gravely. “And then there is the grapevine . . .”
“Which means?” Sara leaned forward, her eyes widening in anticipation.
“Which means, ‘I am very thirsty so do you have any more of that expensive Scottish malt stashed away in your private cupboard?’”
A crumpled kidskin glove hit him square in the chest. “Oh, ye horrid man! Here I thought I was learning some fancy bit of knowledge. But ye was just pulling my corset strings.”
My heroine Eliza, who is dealing with her selfish spendthrift younger brother, is not in quite as playful a mood as the story opens:
Unsure whether to laugh or weep, Eliza set her elbows on the table and took her head in her hands. Otherwise she might have been tempted to hurl the earthenware jug of flowers at his head. Was there a bloom that symbolized ‘bumbleheaded idiot?’
“Harry,” she said slowly. “Let me try to phrase this simply, so that even your fuzzed wits might understand. Our coffers are nigh on empty. The farmlands are in a state of shambles from neglect. The butcher is threatening to cut off credit, and . . .” She paused to pick up a stack of bills “And your tailor and bootmaker are asking for a sum that would likely launch a four-deck ship of the line for His Majesty’s Navy.”
Her brother’s lower lip jutted out in a petulant pout. “A fellow has to cut a fine dash in Town.”
“Yes, well, your ‘dash’ is going to run us straight to the sponging house.”
“Can’t you do something?” he whined. “What about your paintings? I thought you made some blunt illustrating those silly little flower books.”
Eliza looked away. The silly little flower books were, in fact, an impressive set of beautiful quarto-sized books on English wildflowers, written by a noted authority from Merton College.
And yes, she had been paid—quite nicely in fact. But she would be damned if a penny more of her hard-earned savings went to fund Harry’s debaucheries. She was getting close—oh-so close—to saving enough to buy a snug little cottage of her own in the Lake District. A place where she could live independently at last, free from the grasping demands of the men in her life.
Another commission was pending, and if her work was chosen, the dream might actually be within her grasp . . .
So what’s you favorite flower? (If you are interested in what it “says”, you can explore the full bouquet of meanings here.) Do you care what it symbolizes? Or are you just as happy to appreciate it for its physical beauty?
Please chime in! I’ll be giving away a copy of TOO TEMPTING TO RESIST to one lucky person chosen at random from those who leaves a comment below between now and Saturday evening.