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The Symbolism of Favorite Garden Flowers
Some of the most common garden flowers have fascinating stories and symbolic meanings. Flowers have been associated with symbolism for thousands of years. Flowers are a significant part of our lives from birth to death. Many popular garden flowers including foxglove, lupins, poppies, sunflowers, sweet peas, tulips and zinnias are associated with a wealth of stories and mythologies.
Foxglove flowers have both positive and negative symbolic meaning. It is said that sometimes they hurt and sometimes they heal. In the language of flowers, foxglove flowers are associated with insincerity. On the positive side, the common name is said to come from “gloves of the people”, with “folk” referring to useful fairy folk.
In the medieval gardens dedicated to Mother Mary, the foxglove was called “Gloves of Our Lady” or “Gloves of the Virgin”. The scientific name is digitalis, a reference to the presence of powerful chemicals that can cure heart conditions if taken correctly, but can kill if taken in large quantities.
Foxglove thrives in soils that are rich in iron and carbon. New coal deposits can sometimes be located by finding masses of foxgloves growing together. Foxgloves are perennials that grow in temperate areas and like shade, shade and sun.
Foxgloves come in white, yellow, pink, rose, red, lavender and purple. Foxglove can be grown either through seeds or division of plant clumps. Plants range from 2-6′ tall depending on the variety.
The flowers are best in the back of a garden and bloom in a pyramid shape with the lower flowers opening first and the buds remaining closed at the top. Add some foxgloves to your garden this year to invite the fairy folk to take up residence in your garden!
Lupins are symbolic of imagination. The name “lupinus” actually means “of wolves” because of the mistaken belief that ancient peoples had that lupines robbed the earth of nutrients. The fact is that lupins add nitrogen to the soil. The Romans used lupins for fertilizer and ate the high protein seeds.
In the United States, lupins grow well in the Pacific Northwest, the West Coast, New England and other northern states. They are both low cultivated and wild flowers. Lupins also grow in abundance throughout Europe as far north as Norway.
Lupins come in blue, pink, white, yellow and purple. Flowers are useful for dyeing cloth. The seeds are said to help digestion and have been used in skin care to remove spots from the face. The Romans used flat seeds for theater money.
Lupines are the only food for the caterpillar of the Karner blue butterfly. The larvae climb up the stems of wild lupines to feed on the new leaves in mid-April.
The smell of lupine flowers is like that of honey, a good addition to any garden. The magnificent flower spikes can be from 36-60 inches high. Lupins need full sun, rich soil and plenty of moisture. They can grow in poor soils if the soil is not too alkaline. Add some imagination to your garden with a full range of colorful and majestic lupines!
Poppies are symbolic of beauty, magic, comfort, fertility and eternal life. The Egyptians included poppies in funerals and burials. The Greeks used poppies in the sanctuaries of Demeter, goddess of fertility, and Diana, goddess of the hunt. Poppies indicate sleep, rest and relaxation. In modern times, poppies have been associated with the fields of Flanders as an emblem of those who died in the First World War.
Poppies do best in cool climates. They are both a cultivated flower and a wild flower. Although poppies are perennial, they are often grown as annuals. The poppy grows throughout Europe, the East and America. Poppies are the state flower of California.
Poppies have been used for centuries in condiments, medicine and health tonics. Poppy tea has been used for its calming effect. The oriental poppy is the only poppy that contains opium, but other poppies also have mild sedative effects. Water made from poppies is said to remove wrinkles and refresh the skin. Poppy can also be used for dyeing and to add flavor and texture to breads and pastries.
The poppy should be watered moderately and kept in the sun. Poppies grow between 2′ and 5′ tall with flowers up to 12 inches wide. Colors include scarlet red, deep orange, light orange, white, yellow, purple and pink with black centers. There is a single leaf and double leaf form. For a bright and striking addition to your garden, add a border of bright poppies.
Sunflowers are symbolic of worship. Sunflowers turn their heads to the sun, which is the origin of their common name. Sunflowers belong to the genus helianthus, a reference to Helios, the god of the sun.
Sunflowers are native to the Americas and are the state flower of Kansas. The sunflower generally grows in the bush and dry areas. Sunflowers vary widely in size depending on their adaptive genetic makeup, but can reach a maximum height of about 10′.
Sunflowers have recently been bred to produce shorter varieties for the garden. The petals were originally quite small and irregular, so efforts were also made to increase the size and number of petals. Some varieties of double petals were also created and variations in the color of the center (brown to black) and also of the petals (honey, beige, pink cream, soft yellow, pale russet).
Sunflower seeds are rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, protein, fiber and minerals. Sunflower oil can be used for cooking. Sunflowers are also used as animal feed, especially for cattle and birds. Sunflower seeds were also used by Native Americans for blue or black ink and the petals for yellow ink. Smaller sunflower varieties are often used as cut flowers for bouquets and flower arrangements.
Try planting sunflowers along a fence or at the back of your garden for a beautiful, very useful addition to your garden.
The language of flowers associates the following meanings with sweet peas: happy pleasure, delicate pleasure, farewell, departure, farewell and thanks for a good time. Sweet peas were very popular in the late 1800s and are often considered the floral emblem for Edwardian England. Sweet peas are the flowers closest to the month of April.
Sweet peas come in over 250 varieties. The annual varieties prefer full sun, regular water and soil with a lot of humus. Perennial sweet peas survive in average soils with moderate watering. Sweet peas are wonderfully fragrant and were originally grown in the fields of Sicily. Most types grow from 1-5′ tall, although some can reach 6′.
Sweet peas can be used well as cut flowers and in corsages and boutonnieres. The most famous, and perhaps the most important use of sweet peas was the extensive genetic studies carried out by Gregor Mendel.
Tulips are usually symbolic of fame and perfect love. The symbolic meanings also change with the color of the tulips. Red tulips mean “believe me” and are a declaration of love. Variegated tulips mean “you have beautiful eyes.” Yellow tulips mean “there is sunshine in your smile”. And cream-colored tulips mean “I’ll love you forever.” Tulips are the first national symbol of the Netherlands, rivaling wooden shoes and windmills!
Tulips originated from Persia and were brought to Holland in the 17th century. About 150 varieties of tulips grow in nature, especially in mountainous and cold regions. When the tulip was hybrid, a wide range of colors and shapes of petals were created.
The name for tulips comes from the hair worn by many peoples of the Middle East known as turban or Taliban. In Latin, this translates to “tulip”.
In the years 1636-37, tulipmania reigned in the Netherlands. Tulips were a symbol of wealth and status and were traded as currency. A bed of tulips could buy a small house. Some highly prized tulips were even more valuable and a single bulb could be exchanged for a large house and all the land, furniture and other accessories.
When the tulip market crashed, it was similar to the stock market crash in the 20th century. Thousands of businessmen were ruined when the bubble burst.
Today, the tulip remains a favorite spring flower. Almost any garden can be graced with this beautiful flower, easily recognized.
The symbolic meanings associated with zinnias are thoughts of absent friends, lasting affection, constancy, kindness and daily remembrance. Zinnias are the state flower of Indiana.
The original zinnias were found in the early 1500s in the wilds of Mexico. They were so deaf and unattractive that the Aztec name for them meant “eyesore.” When they were introduced in Europe, they were as despised and referred to as “flowers of all” and “flowers of the poor.” The zinnia was named for Dr. Gottfried Zinn, a German whose hobby was the breeding of wildflowers.
The common name, garden Cinderella, indicates the level of the later transformation of the zinnia. In the late 1800s, a French botanist produced the first double zinnias with bright colors. At the beginning of the 20th century, Luther Burbank created the first dahlia as a zinnia. Today the number of colors and shapes of flowers available is amazing.
Zinnias thrive in hot climates and will not grow in cool weather. Zinnias should not be over water and do not like mildew. A wonderful feature of zinnias is that the flowers that open first stay fresh as new flowers open and begin to bloom.
The next time you decide what flowers to plant in your garden, keep in mind the amazing symbolism of flowers!
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