Discovering the meaning of flowers with Shane Connolly
Shane Connolly holds two Royal Warrants and is globally renowned for designing the flowers for the wedding of Her Royal Highness The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In his latest book, Discovering the Meaning of Flowers: Love Found, Love Lost, Love Restored, Shane re-introduces Floriography, also know as the language of flowers, in a way that makes it fresh and relevant today. “When I choose flowers, I want them to look and feel like the fruits of the earth, not like products off an assembly line,” says Shane. “Understanding how former generations relied upon flowers, and were even able to express emotion and communicate through them, helps us to rediscover their dignity, individuality and character.”
We caught up with Shane to find out more about how Floriography influences his designs and choice of flowers:
Fresh from the garden
I trained at renowned London florist Pulbrook and Gould in the late 1980s, and scented garden roses were a huge part of their summer repertoire. They came from private gardens around the UK. When I started up on my own, I yearned to find scented summer garden roses but there were none at the flower market. Then I heard from Rosebie, who was just starting to cut from her rose garden, and I was beyond thrilled! I have now been a customer of The Real Flower Company for almost twenty years.
The language of love
Florigraphy and the science of rose hybridisation were passionate obsessions of civilised society in the 19th century. With the discovery of each new rose variety or colour came a new meaning in the Language of Flowers – from the “passionate love” of red roses, through the calmer “perfect happiness” of pink roses to the “decrease of love or jealousy” of yellow roses. Roses can speak every word needed in the language of love.
Positives and negatives
As well as flowers communicating love and friendship, there are quite a few with surprisingly negative meanings. For instance, Philadelphus (mock orange blossom) symbolises “deceit” – probably because it’s pretending to be something it’s not. Purple verbena (Verbena Bonariensis) means “I weep for you” – perhaps because it’s a herb that was used in sacrificial rites. It’s not what you would expect from a fashionable flower, but it’s fascinating to learn how the symbolic meaning can lead us to uncover a flower’s unique history.
Royal wedding flowers
Her Royal Highness wanted all the flowers we used for the wedding to be chosen with thought for both for their meanings or symbolism and for their sourcing. So all the flowers we used had auspicious meanings for the couple – this was a complete joy for me and made their wedding even more special. The bouquet included lily of the valley meaning “the return of happiness”, sweet william for “gallantry”, and myrtle, which is an ancient symbol of “a happy marriage”.
Working with the seasons
Obviously we want to use seasonal and local products to offset the negative impact the flower industry can have on the environment – but quite honestly, I find seasonal, local flowers are better in every way. Working with the seasons can help to determine the whole colour scheme and creative direction for an event I design – it imparts a subliminal message that guests read without realising it. Seasons give a rhythm to life as well as a sense of time and place. They also give us something to look forward to – if we didn’t have seasons, we’d get bored of seeing the same thing again and again.
My personal favourites among roses are probably the really old varieties that flower only briefly but smell stronger than any other. They’re not worth growing commercially, soI have some in my own garden, just for me and my wife to enjoy, which makes them extremely special! Among the roses I use in my arrangements, I am particularly fond of Margaret Merril, which The Real Flower Company grows in its Hampshire flower farm. It has a wonderful, intoxicating scent, a beautiful open simplicity, and the most perfect warm creamy colour.
Shane’s book, Discovering the Meaning of Flowers (Clearview 2017) is available to buy here