When you think of ancient civilisations, whether it be the Romans, the Egyptians or even the folk who gave us the mythical Tower of Babel, you would naturally think of history, encyclopedias, and documentary series on telly. Apart from the myths and the knowledge inscribed in hieroglyphs or the Rosetta Stone, forever-ago cultures gave us one lasting tradition that has crossed millennia. Ascribing meaning to the act of giving flowers and, in many instances, the meaning assigned to specific flowers of cultures.
Gifting and communicating emotion with flowers have its modern roots in the art of floriography, whereby the type or flowers, colours and arrangements have specific meanings and messages associated to them. This all started around the mid-1800’s, a hundred years after the idea was first brought to Europe from the Ottoman Empire (today’s Turkey) here, an obsession with tulips in the early 1700’s lit the flame.
The idea that flower arrangements could communicate secret and sensual messages during a time of zip up and shut up in conservative England, captured the collective imagination of Queen Victoria’s subjects. A legion of books and guides encoding and decoding floral messages were bestsellers.
Florist Wendy Rovito of XOXO flowers & gifts says that while times may have changed, the act of giving flowers and the array of emotions woven into an arrangement is no different from recent or even ancient history. “Flowers mark any occasion and, irrespective whether it is a happy occasion or even one of sadness, its beauty is bound to share warmth and joy no matter what.” Meanings also continue to be associated with various colours and types of flowers. “Red roses will always be the flower of love and passion; yellow roses symbolize friendship. Lilly’s used to be relegated to funerals, but today, often found in arrangements that express love and commitment.”
The ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians all used flowers in rituals, usually as offerings to the gods. This later evolved to gifting beautiful women, or goddesses on earth, flowers. Egyptian warriors even adorned battle chariots with arrangements and thousands of kilometres away, in China, flowers also played a significant role in myth and culture. Today we still give our goddesses flowers and, while it may have been deemed inappropriate as recently as 50 years ago, “it is now no longer taboo to give flowers to a man, in fact, we see this trend growing every year,” says Rovito.
Rovito started the business after the passing of her mom, who had a passion for flowers. “I woke up one morning and it just came to me, that this is what I must be doing.” Without a second thought, she went for it. “I feel that it is a calling. Flowers can spread love and happiness. Even more importantly,” she says, “hope.” And this is her mission; to communicate positivity and fulfilling emotion through beautiful arrangements. “After all, in times like these, this is what we need as humanity.”
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Interestingly, she adds that florists have bucked the sustained downward trend experienced by most retailers during the Covid-19 pandemic. “While the Level 5 lockdown decimated flower crops, the industry picked up unexpectedly and at pace.” Demand, she says, is high with a growing number of people sending flowers to one another simply as a random act of love and sharing warmth. “There are the traditions such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays and celebrations plus many other days of observation, the get well soon arrangements and of course, funerals. But never before have I seen so many arrangements go out simply to express positivity.”
Many customers come to her Bedfordview store without any idea what they want, smiles Rovito. “We then discuss the intent of the gift, the emotion that underpins it and, of course, we go through pictures and combinations to adequately express these feelings. It is a process, and one so important in the journey to the final piece. It becomes art, shaped and tangible sentiment.”
While the approaching winter means slimmer pickings in terms of variety, Rovito says that autumn colours, muted browns and reds are on-trend. “Antique roses have also made a huge come back with evergreen popular tulips appearing towards mid-winter.” Ultimately, she says that it does not really matter what kind of arrangement or which flowers one shares. “My mom always said, ‘where there is a bloom in the home, there is hope.”
About the author
Hein Kaiser is a seasoned journalist, broadcaster, producer, and marketing communication professional and has worked in a variety of markets, sectors, and countries. He presently hosts the 360 Brunch over weekends on Mix 93.8FM, writes for the Citizen and consults to various companies on a strategic level.