Never send yellow roses ... the hidden meaning of different blooms

New book by royal wedding floral designer decodes the meaning of blooms

Pssst… Planning on sending some sweetly scented blooms to your loved one this coming Valentine’s Day? To avoid committing some sort of embarrassing faux-pas/romantic blunder, let me have a quiet word in your ear regarding the sort of discreet message you might be inadvertently giving with your choice of flowers.

Whatever you do, don’t send yellow roses (these signify jealousy, infidelity, or the decline of love), mint (madness) or striped carnations (a sign that the love is not mutual.

Red roses? Yawn ... Sorry, ignore me, I meant to say that a bunch of red roses is spot on the money in terms of saying "I love you". But did you know that if the object of your affections replies to your floral declaration of love with a single withered bloom, then that's "an unambiguous botanical slap in the face"? A single rose leaf, on the other hand, signals hope. Or so says high society floral designer Shane Connolly in his charming new book, Discovering the Meaning of Flowers (Clearview Books, £20).

Royal wedding

Northern Ireland-born Connolly, who can count the British royal family among his clients (he 'did the flowers' for Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding, including the ethereally pretty, nature-inspired installations in Westminster Abbey) is known for his light and graceful touch, especially in the way he lets each individual bloom express itself.


Many examples are included in this handsomely illustrated book, along with an instructive step-by-step guide on how to recreate each arrangement. It’s no surprise to discover that he’s a keen gardener, with a deep-rooted love of many of our most traditional and loveliest of garden flowers – peonies, lilac, violets and sweet pea – as well as native wildflowers.


The affable Connolly also has a longtime interest in what is known as floriography – the way in which certain species of flowers are considered symbolic of certain thoughts or emotions.

In our modern-day era of text messages, emojis, emails and Tinder – swipe right if you like what you see, left if you don’t – the idea that flowers might be used to convey a series of subtle messages might seem quaint, even odd. But the history of floriography, or the language of flowers, goes back thousand of years, reaching a popular peak in western Europe and America in the 19th century.

It was, explains Connolly, “purposely contrived and codified to aid and abet lovers in the pursuit of love”. Compare that with an age, as Connolly describes it, where we “communicate with an exchange of images that has become so unsuppressed, so completely ‘out there’ and so embarrassingly permanent”.

I know which I’d prefer.