Anyone who has read the Bible or romantic poetry knows that flowers are often used as symbols. What may not have occurred to you is that the person you receive flowers from or give flowers to may read a message into the selections in the arrangement. If you are like me, you will never again select flowers as gifts solely for their aesthetic qualities. The book's strength is an outstanding choice of paintings used to illustrate the flowers discussed as well as their symbolism. You will be pleased to find the references for these paintings in the book so you can explore the works separately from the book.
Ms. Heilmeyer is both a botanist and an art historian in Berlin, which makes her eminently qualified to explore this subject. Her review of the history of flower symbolism begins in ancient Egypt and moves forward in time through Greece, Rome, and Christian sources across Western Europe. Her key point is that "Throughout the ages flowers have played an important role in expressing feelings, or when joyful or sad news had to be delivered."
The book is organized so that you get one page of essay facing one page of art illustration. The essay page will often have some small botanical illustrations on it. In total, you will find 156 color illustrations, almost all of which are wonderful! I was especially impressed that Ms. Heilmeyer was able to find botanical photographs that so aptly captured the symbolic elements of the flowers. On the top right of the page with the essay, the symbolic meanings are summarized to make it easier to use the book as a reference when assembling a message through an arrangement.
I was struck that many flowers symbolize different things totally in the religious versus the lay context. The potential for mixed messages is strong in those cases.
Here are a few flowers and some of their symbolic meanings to give you a flavor of what you will learn in the book:
Columbine (Aquilegia) -- wisdom and strength, piety and fear; a symbol of salvation, the triumph of life over death; an aphrodisiac;
Thistle -- Scotland's national emblem; a symbol of hard work, suffering and Christ's deliverance; dispels melancholy;
Strawberry -- First fruit of the year; a symbol of purity and sensuality, fertility and abandance, humility and modesty;
Camellia -- A symbol of the transience of life;
Crocus -- Symbol of the Resurrection and heavenly bliss;
Stock -- Symbol of happy life and contented existence;
Lily -- Purity;
Lily of the Valley -- A symbol of the Virgin Mary;
Daisy -- The love flower;
Daffodil -- The promise of eternal life;
Carnation -- Bravery, love, and friendship; symbol of Mother's Day;
Peony -- An ardent love of God;
Rose -- Love and joy; and
Pansy -- Sign of the Holy Trinity; symbolizes loyalty.
The obvious application of this book is to make up bouquets that are meaningfully beautiful. I hope you will use it that way to bring you closer to those you love.
After you have finished enjoying this book and making many wonderful arrangements that you would not have considered before, I suggest that you also think about other natural items that have symbolic meanings and employ them as well to expand your visual use of language.