We’re taking a second today to have a fun look at the history of wedding flowers.
The “language” of flowers has been around for as long as the history of bouquets. During Victorian times, flowers were used to express emotions when words and gestures failed. While many historical reasons for flowering included warding off evil spirits and covering strong smelling body odour, today’s usage is decidedly less practical and more romantic.
Modern couples follow these traditions during their wedding ceremonies and create bouquets and centerpieces with flowers whose meanings have significance to them. While carrying flowers with a love connection, like roses and carnations, is popular, there are many other meaningful traits like new beginnings (daffodil), faith (iris), and perseverance (hydrangea) to consider.
“The practice of brides carrying bouquets dates to antiquity,” Owens tells us. “Ancient Greeks and Romans, even Egyptians, carried fragrant herbs and spices to ward off bad luck during weddings.” The flowers symbolized a new beginning and brought hopes of fertility, happiness, and fidelity. Here are a few highlights of how flowers were used throughout history to celebrate:
Garlands and crowns used in Greek weddings included olive branches, herbs to honor the goddess Hera, of marriage and fertility, and scented white flowers such as orange blossoms.
Strands of ivy symbolized the unbreakable bond of the marriage; the white blossoms stood for sweetness and happiness.
Roman couples followed a similar custom to Greek wedding flowers, weaving greenery and blooms into garlands and crowns, scented with orange blossom, roses, thyme, basil, and marjoram to ward off evil, honor the gods, invoke fertility, and entice good luck.
Ancient Egyptians, clustered in the fertile lands along the Nile, collected flowers in their travels and venerated the local lotus. The symbolic lotus appears widely in Egyptian art and may have been a wedding decoration. A papyrus poem dating from about 1100 BCE references love and lotus flowers.
Marriages were simple, civil agreements then, and archaeological discoveries show only that Egyptian brides carried thyme and garlic as a shield against evil spirits.
In Egypt, Osiris, the goddess of all growing things, was often offered flowers for happiness and long life. Women then wore chaplets and headbands of blue cornflower, white mayweed and pink flowers in association to this.
In the Middle Ages, fragrant herbs and abundant grains like garlic and sheaves of wheat were symbolic wedding flora, along with flower garlands worn by both bride and groom.
In the Elizabethan/Tudor era, wedding flowers were playful and more abundant. Posies, nosegays and sachets were added to or substituted for medieval wedding flora. The Victorian Era of Wedding Flowers
“It wasn’t until the Victorian age that we see the birth of the wedding bouquet as we know it today. While flower symbolism was hugely popular then, and brides were able to communicate their romantic sentiments through their specific floral choices, that practice has faded a bit, with modern couples choosing their flowers based more on beauty and color.”
People were much taken with the hidden meanings of flowers in Queen Victoria’s day. Lavish tomes featured illustrations of every kind of blossom and the various meanings attached to it. Victoria paid scrupulous attention to detail and sumptuous staging, especially flower symbolism. She heaped her ceremony with cut and blooming flowers, and wore a crown of orange blossoms– a symbol of chastity — in her hair, sparking a craze for bridal flower crowns.
Queen Victoria was a fan of the tussie mussie– the old English name for a small posy or nosegay style bouquet. Tussie mussies were popular in Victorian England. This trend has been making a comeback recently, especially with larger wedding parties.
The Queen’s bouquet was a mass of scented symbols. One flower she carried was myrtle, a fragrant plant evoking the love goddesses, Aphrodite and Venus. The delicate, creamy-white blossoms are associated with:
immortal, true love
a Hebrew emblem of marriage.
Feel like royalty with your very own sprig of myrtle!
Every British royal bride since Victoria has included a sprig of myrtle in her bouquet from a tree grown from the myrtle used in Queen Victoria’s own bridal bouquet. Each royal bride includes a sprig from that original plant in her bouquet, and the bridesmaids then plant the sprigs in Queen Victoria’s garden after the wedding.
Mary of Teck married the future King George V (Queen Victoria’s grandson and Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather) in 1893. The bride was said to have walked down the aisle carrying a bouquet of Provence roses, orchids, and orange blossoms. Her bridesmaids carried similar bouquets and wore roses in their hair.
If you’re wanting to include some meaning into the flower choices in your wedding bouquet, learning what each bloom really means can make your decision a little easier. For example, did you know that magnolia means “love of nature” and stephanotis signifies “marital happiness”?
During the Victorian era, The Language of Flowers created an ultra-romantic language for lovers’ correspondence in which flowers replaced words. Check out our guide to some of our favorite wedding flowers and decide which messages move you most—your florist can also be a great resource too.
Maybe the most iconic royal bride of the century, Princess Diana and her 1981 wedding look has been the inspiration for countless bridal trends over the past few decades. Princess Diana’s cascading bouquet was as grand as every other aspect of her nuptials.
The floral arrangement was made up of gardenias, stephanotis, odontolglossum orchids, lily of the valley, earl mountbatten roses, freesia, veronica, ivy, trasdescantia, and—you guessed it—myrtle. The late Princess set the trend for an overflowing bouquet look for brides-to-be for years to come.
In the same way, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s wedding flowers have inspired a new generation of brides as they plan their weddings.
We hope this was a fun look at the history of flowers being used in weddings!
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