Let the flowers do the talking...

A hellebore for scandal, a rose for love - see what's going on in the Wisley Garden Library

'Cheerfulness under adversity', p.45 from Language of Flowers, illustrated by Kate Greenaway. Published 1884Our Language of Flowers display has done a grand job of pulling visitors out of the cold and into the garden library. This curious 19th-century craze, which engaged the hearts and fancies of the Victorians had no historical, mythological or any other basis - but became the fertile sand on which a folklore was built.

Resourceful authors and shrewd entrepreneurs were quick to see a gap in the market and, what might have originated as a bit of fun for the grown-ups was cleaned-up and peddled to a younger audience. The Lindley Library has over twenty books from this period, together with greetings cards and a board game.

A lost language?

Front cover of the board game Das Reich der Blumenkönigin [or The realm of the queen of flowers] produced for the German, French and English markets, 1860s–1870sA look at our catalogue indicates a dearth of material on this subject between the end of the 1914-18 war and the beginning of the 1960s, suggesting the Language of Flowers had become archaic.

However, with the emergence of interest in the Victorian era it staged a comeback and persists as an intriguing subject for modern authors. It can be a source of inspiration for contemporary artists too.

Read about the history of the Victorian Language
of Flowers in Brent Elliott’s occasional paper for
the Lindley Library and come and visit our display
in the Wisley Garden Library
, 11am-4pm, every
day until 1 March 2015.


Flora symbolica by John Ingram published c. 1869*RHS members can borrow from the thousands of gardening books held in the Lindley Libraries – visit our online catalogue
Even if you are not an RHS member, the Lindley Libraries are open to everyone and provide access to modern collections of books and journals on gardening and related topics.

Our heritage collections of rare books, photographs, art and archives are accessible by appointment.


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