The Language of Flowers

'The Language of Flowers' by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and Mandy Kirkby. (Photo ©Tanya Lunn 2014)

‘The Language of Flowers’ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and Mandy Kirkby. (Photo ©Tanya Lunn 2014)

After the rather grim content of my last post, I’ve decided to mention a book that I read last year which centres around flowers. I really enjoyed our book club’s selection, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Having said that it has a floral theme, I have to admit that the main character, Victoria, comes with her own set of problems; author Diffenbaugh says that she rewrote the book several times, because she realized that it was ‘hard for the reader to like Victoria’ and yet she felt it was important for her audience to be ‘rooting for her’.  The idea of using flowers in the plot came later.  The novel tells the story of an emotionally scarred young woman who has been in foster care since birth and, on her 18th birthday, is given a short-term place in a transitional house while she looks for a job and a place to live. When she finds neither, she is turned out on the street and ends up living rough in a city park, where she plants a garden using seedlings she has grown from cuttings taken on her walks. Soon, she manages to persuade a florist to take her on part-time and she uses her knowledge of the Victorian meanings of different flowers (which she has learnt at one of her childhood foster homes) to prepare bouquets tailored to individual customers’ needs.

Author Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Photo Nina Rehfeld)

Author Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Photo Nina Rehfeld) photographed in a vineyard; a significant part of ‘The Language of Flowers’ is set in and around vineyards.

From there the plot develops, with Victoria eventually finding happiness through love. Not only is this a coming-of-age tale, themes of loss and redemption are also powerfully explored.  I enjoyed not only the story of how this young woman slowly turns her life around, but also the background theme of the Victorian ‘language of flowers’. I was so interested in this subject (I am, in fact, an ex-florist) that I ended up searching the net for books and ‘flower dictionaries’ on the subject. I found several, including The Language of Flowers by Mandy Kirkby, with an Introduction by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (the author of the novel), which I bought.

Among the flowers and leaves that I picked in the garden for the shot above, and their meanings, are:

This little volume 'The Language of Flowers' (© 1968 Margaret Pickston), published by Penguin, is a reproduction of a beautiful, handmade book dated August 8th, 1913.

This little volume ‘The Language of Flowers’ (© 1968 Margaret Pickston), published by Penguin, is a reproduction of a beautiful, handmade book dated August 8th, 1913.

Eglantine (Briar Rose) – “I wound to heal”

Ivy – “Fidelity”

Lavender – “Mistrust”

Yellow rose – “Infidelity”

Pink rose – “Grace”

Daisy – “Innocence”

Pink carnation – ‘I will never forget you’

'The Language of Flowers' by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and Mandy Kirkby. (Photo ©Tanya Lunn 2014)

‘The Language of Flowers’ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and Mandy Kirkby. (Photo ©Tanya Lunn 2014)  Interestingly, Camellia (the pink flower on the left of the shot) means – ‘My destiny is in your hands’.

Interestingly, Camellia (the pink flower resting on the cover of the book in the left of this image) means – ‘My destiny is in your hands’. Together with her friend, high-flying brand strategist Isis Dallis Keigwin, Diffenbaugh founded the Camellia Network in 2012, using her advance on The Language of Flowers to get it up and running. The organization supports young people aging out of foster care, providing help, counseling and guidance for the huge numbers of young people that find themselves – like Victoria – in this situation every year. The Camellia Network’s website states that Diffenbaugh and Keigwin aim to ‘… bring these young people out of the shadows, celebrate who they are and what they are aspiring to achieve, and then give everyday people and organizations across the country a simple way to lend their support and resources, [so] they [can] dramatically improve the outcomes for foster youth transitioning out of care.’

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