Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Say it with flowers

Posted by Stephanie Baron 

Honeysuckle represents devoted love.
© Andrew Gagg / Plantlife
Its Valentine's Day this Thursday - the perfect time to give an admiring glance at wild plants which have been linked with love, romance and passion.

Subtle and secret messages have long been passed through the sending or receiving of flowers — a practice known as floriography. The Victorians especially developed the language of flowers and by choosing their bouquets carefully, communicated feelings that the propriety of the times forbid them to speak out loud. Coded bouquets that told of love and attraction were sometimes referred to as a ‘Persian Selam’. Here are a few examples:
  • Bluebell - constancy and everlasting
  • Honeysuckle - devoted love
  • Daisy — innocence and modesty
Perhaps one of the best known flowers associated with romance is the sweet violet, as mentioned in the famous rhyme:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

The poem's origins are obscure, but it dates back at least to 1590 when Sir Edmund Spencer used it in his opus The Fairie Queene:

She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

The sweet violet has a long and romantic history in both European and Asian folklore: the ancient Greeks first used it to make perfume and the Romans to make wine. Ancient Britons used it for cosmetics. For the Medieval French troubadours, it symbolised constancy in their tales of chivalrous love.

Napolean was particularly fond of the flower: Josephine allegedly threw him a posy the first time they met. After his defeat at Waterloo he was permitted to visit her grave one last time, before he was exiled on the island of St Helena. He found sweet violets growing there and picked a few. Upon his death these were found in a locket that hung around his neck.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Snowdrops & Candlemas Day

Posted by Dr Seona Anderson

Candlemas is not often celebrated in Britain today but in the past the 2nd of February was an important church festival.

Falling in the middle of winter, between the shortest day and the spring equinox, it may have had pre-Christian traditions as a celebration of light. Candlemas Day was traditionally when the candles were brought to the church to be blessed. It was also one of the twelve great feasts of Eastern Christian, the ‘Feast of the Presentation of the Lord’, the day when Jesus was first brought to the temple after his birth.

It is at this time of year that snowdrops start to bloom, so its perhaps no surprise that this pure white flower has links to Candlemas too. Bunches were placed on the altar of the Virgin Mary to honour her purification forty days after the birth of Jesus.

Here's a few more snowdrop facts for this Candlemas weekend:
  • Snowdrops are thought to have been introduced many centuries ago, possibly in the early 1600s. They are not considered a native plant but are now widely naturalised across all of Britain. 
  • The Girl Guides in Britain used to collect snowdrops for sale to raise funds. The Girl Scout Association in Russia, started in 1910 and reinstated in the 1990s, has three snowdrops on its emblem. 
  • Queen Victoria had a bouquet of snowdrops at her wedding to Prince Albert on 10th February 1840. 
  • Snowdrops are still one of our best loved wildflowers - to see some snowdrop related artwork visit our online Patchwork Meadow gallery.