Written in Petals The Language of Flowers in Victorian Europe

Language of Flowers - Kate Greenaway

The Illuminated Language of Flowers: over 700 Flowers and Plants Listed Alphabetically with Their Meanings (1884) is often considered one of the last books of the Victorian floriography tradition. Its author, Kate Greenaway, was primarily a clothing illustrator; indeed, most of the images in the book focus on women and children wearing clothes that Greenaway made popular. The bulk of the text is a simple list of plants with 1-3 word “meanings” beside them. Language of Flowers represents the ending of a serious and detailed language of flowers, and is the sort of thing that Cole Porter would parody in his 1916 musical See America First. Serious interest in floriography had effectively disappeared by World War I; prior to then book publication had dwindled though postcards describing floral meanings were somewhat popular for a time. Some interest in a language of flowers was renewed in the 1960s as Victorian tastes became fashionable for their camp value but shortly faded to the limited form we know in the 21st century.

By the time Kate Greenaway's 'Language of Flowers' was printed in 1884 the interest in floriography had begun to wane. Greenaway's book is often seen as the effective end of the genre.
None of the poetry of earlier works remains in 'Language of Flowers', replaced by simple lists and sporadic floral illustrations.
Greenaway was mostly known for her fashion illustrations, many of which adorn the pages of 'Language of Flowers'.