Flow­ers are an­cient sym­bols

The Compass - - SPORTS - John Norman gar­dens in Bon­av­ista

Cut flow­ers have been a sym­bol used to rec­og­nize ma­jor life tran­si­tions such as birth, mar­riage and death for cen­turies. This f lo­ral tra­di­tion has, to­day, grown to a multi-bil­lion­dol­lar in­dus­try world­wide and no hol­i­day sym­bol­izes it more than Valen­tine’s Day.

So where did flow­ers be­come in­fused with such mean­ing? Who de­cided that flow­ers would play such an im­por­tant role in the lives and tra­di­tions of hu­mans? In to­day’s world we — more of­ten men than women — use flow­ers to re­place words and emo­tions. But why?

Through his­toric art pieces and arche­o­log­i­cal digs we now know that thou­sands of years ago, in an­cient Egypt, the act of cut­ting flow­ers and us­ing them for sym­bolic and of­ten re­li­gious pur­poses be­gan. At that time, and within that so­ci­ety, flow­ers car­ried re­li­gious mean­ings or con­no­ta­tions, so only cer­tain flow­ers could be used for spe­cific events. The most com­mon uses at that time sur­rounded death and the path into an af­ter­life. Flow­ers used by the an­cient Egyp­tians were the iris, the rose and the lo­tus flower all of which sym­bol­ized var­i­ous gods within their be­lief sys­tem.

In Chi­nese cul­ture some 2,000 years ago, so­ci­ety be­gan to cut and ar­range flow­ers based on re­li­gious and cul­tural mean­ing. Un­like the Egyp­tians, we know the Chi­nese of­ten dis­played flow­ers in water so that they would last longer with­out wilt­ing. In China the tiger lily, or­chid, chrysan­the­mum and peony were pop­u­lar, as they are to­day in that coun­try, as well as ours.

Like the Egyp­tians and Chi­nese, an­cient Greeks and Ro­mans also used flow­ers and herbs in day-to-day life. But in their so­ci­ety they were most of­ten as­so­ci­ated with vic­tory in ath­letic or mil­i­tary events (much as they are to­day through­out North Amer­ica).

Greeks and Ro­mans used pars­ley, lau­rel, rose­mary, roses and anemones for throw­ing at sport­ing events and to con­struct vic­tory wreaths to be worn on the head of cham­pi­ons! If you re­ceived a wreath of lau­rel, you were the “star of the na­tion”!

Flower ar­rang­ing of the mod­ern world, that is sim­i­lar to what we see to­day, be­gan about 1,000 A.D. in Europe and “blos­somed” (pun in­tended) dur­ing the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance. Dur­ing this time wealthy fam­i­lies be­gan to col­lect beau­ti­ful, or­nate vases for their homes and palaces in which to dis­play cut flow­ers. This pe­riod marked the of­fi­cial start of for­mal flo­ral de­sign and tech­niques, many of which are still used to­day.

Leave it to the Vic­to­ri­ans! What bet­ter time was there than the Vic­to­rian age? Apart from all the sick­ness and death, lack of in­door plumb­ing, and other con­ve­niences, the Vic­to­rian pe­riod marked a time in his­tory when ev­ery­thing made was made beau­ti­fully, even if it served no real func­tion. Aes­thet­ics ruled and as a re­sult flow­ers were IN IN IN!

In Eng­land, at this time, both men and women tra­di­tion­ally gave small flower bou­quets to each other known as “tussie mussies or posies.” They were not only given as a sign of friend­ship but were also, and more im­por­tantly, given to mask odours in cities of the time. Roses, freesia, lilies — they were all given as a per­fume of sorts. Women of the time even added flow­ers to their hair, which of­ten re­mained un­washed for weeks.

The Vic­to­ri­ans were so in­fat­u­ated with flow­ers — giv­ing, re­ceiv­ing, dis­play­ing, and wear­ing — that they cre­ated a “lan­guage of flow­ers.” So not only did an ar­range­ment look pretty but it ac­tu­ally held a mes­sage!

The daisy stood for cheer­ful­ness and the gera­nium stood for in­no­cence. A woman would be thrilled to re­ceive Glad­i­o­las from a suitor since they stood for in­fat­u­a­tion. While hon­ey­suckle and pan­sies meant af­fec­tion, lilies stood for pu­rity and roses meant love, as they do to­day.

It is in­ter­est­ing to know that flow­ers you likely pur­chased or re­ceived this past Valen­tine’s Day had a 50 per­cent like­li­hood of mov­ing through one of three ma­jor cut flower cen­tres of the globe: Hol­land, Cal­i­for­nia or Ecuador.

I am will­ing to bet that you most likely did not give the roses, the tulips, or the lilies you re­ceived this year a sec­ond thought! But the fact is, that sim­ple bunch of flow­ers in your home rep­re­sents thou­sands of years of evo­lu­tion in the cut flower in­dus­try, bil­lions of dol­lars and count­less jobs around the world. Who knew?

For more in­ter­est­ing facts about flow­ers or to an­swer any g a rd e n i n g ques­tions email me atjohn­nor­man21@gmail.com

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