Posted in Flowers, Love, romance, Roses, Valentine's Day

Roses Again? Blame the Victorians

We’re a rose-based culture, but that wasn’t always the case. And your florist holds out hope for a change.

Across the nation, people are walking into floral boutiques, past displays of orchids, lilies, and other wondrous sundries. They ooh and ahh at wiry doodads in tall containers. They admire natural groups of unnamable wildflowers tied with raffia.

What do they order? Roses. Again.

You could argue we’ve been brainwashed by all those romantic movies where the guy gives the girl a dozen long-stem roses—or maybe even an entire roomful. Think about it. The camera follows the guy up the porch steps, and the lovely girl opens the door. What is the guy holding behind his back? It’s not a bunch of wiry doodads.

Sure, florists may smile and say something like, “Roses! A classic choice!” But what they’re really thinking is, “Will I be able to restrain myself from banging by head on the counter until after this customer leaves?”

On a hunch, I went to visit my friend Steve McClure who owns our local Four Seasons Florist. Steve’s shop has a bunch of beautiful seasonal displays, including a pretty cool arrangement with lemons shoved down inside a glass vase of water. All that’s missing is a sign saying, “Why Not Order Something Besides #$*! Roses?”

Steve and I talked about forsythia and quince and nandina berries (all native here in NC), as well as some beautiful imported plants. “That’s terrific,” I said. “So what are people ordering for Valentines Day?”

“Oh, you know. Roses.” (To his credit, Steve did not cringe.)

Why are we in a rose rut? Blame the Victorians.

In nineteenth century England, repression was all the rage. Anything even alluding to physical intimacy was taboo. For example, Victorian tables couldn’t have “legs” because that was just too racy. What if some poor, unsuspecting gentleman found himself led astray by the buffet? Instead, tables had a platform along the bottom. No kidding.

In spite of foreboding obstacles, young couples had to express themselves to each other if there was ever going to be a Post-Victorian England. Enter Kate Grenaway’s popular 1884 book, The Language of Flowers. This tome was a sort of secret dictionary that couples could use to send coded messages to each other via various flora and fauna. And it worked quite well, providing the participants had an extensive line of credit at the corner flower shop.

A young man could tell a woman he appreciated her many charms by sending her a bouquet of clematis and garden sage.

“I feel exactly the same way about you,” she might reply, via a cluster of common daisies.

Encouraged, the gentleman might feel compelled to declare his deeper feelings. “I am completely smitten with you.” (Honey suckle, white camillia)

“Er, I think of you more like a brother.” (Aspen, woodbine)

“Forget that, you corseted vision of bodaciousness! Marry me! Or at least flash me some ankle.” (red tulips, American linden, ivy)

“OK, now you’re really freaking me out. Tell me the truth—you’re insane, aren’t you?” (bellflower, dahlia, mandrake)

“I’m sorry! Give me another chance!” (filbert, dogwood)

“Leave me alone or I’ll take out a restraining order.” (penny royal, yellow carnation, firm letter from the Exchequer of the Court)

Ultimately, this system proved to be cumbersome, so the practice got whittled down to a store-bought card and a dozen roses. “I love you. Here are some roses.” See? Easy-peezy.

Then again, perhaps it’s time to stop playing it safe. Journey to your local flower shop. Note the Gerber daisies and oriental lilies. Maybe go for something with subaquatic citrus.

But steer clear of the mandrake.


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Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist and author of the book No Room for Doubt. For more author information go to





Award-winning humor columnist and author of the true crime memoir _No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder_ (Penguin Group, 2009). Inspirational speaker on issues of survivors' rights, women's issues, and general you-can-do-it-ness. Marketing consultant.

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