When I gave my mother a cup of tea the other day, she admired the mug — which was covered with a pattern of yellow roses, which she said were her favourite flower. Now, she’s got a birthday coming up, so I picked up a nice little Kate Greenaway book for her on the Language of Flowers and a tea mug just like the one of mine that she liked.

According to the wise Wikipedia:

was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. King Charles II brought the art to Sweden from Persia in the 17th Century. The nuances of the language are now mostly forgotten, but red roses still imply passionate, romantic love; pink roses a lesser affection; white roses still suggest virtue and chastity; and yellow roses still stand for friendship or devotion. While these may not be the exact translations of the Victorian sentiments, the flowers still speak to us.

Kate Greenaway - The Language of Flowers - from AmazonFlowers speak to us — but what do they say?

Take my dear mother’s favourite, the yellow rose, for example. The meaning of a rose depends on the colour, not surprisingly: dark pink is for gratitude, white is for innocence, orange is for passion, and a red rose is for love. All well and good. But the yellow rose is a tad ambiguous, it seems…

A yellow rose can have one or more of an astonishing range of meanings: friendship or platonic love, a dying love or infidelity, apologies, jealousy, new beginnings… Imagine receiving a lovely bouquet of yellow roses from a Significant Other — and then worrying your brain out, wondering whether you’re getting a declaration of friendship or a warning that your lover is unfaithful!

Not what you’d call a clear mode of communication, this whole language of flowers!

Fortunately, I’m pretty sure that my mother will interpret her yellow-rose mug as a token of familial affection, give me a kiss on the cheek, and pour herself a lovely cup of tea. And that’s all good.

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