Penhaligon’s Language of Flowers

Love’s language may be talked with these
To work out choicest sentences,
No blossoms can be meeter
And, such being used in Eastern bowers
Young maids may wonder if the flowers
Or meanings be the sweeter.

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, 1806 – 1861 

 

With our ‘Step in to the Gardenissue of The Scented Letter Magazine hot off the press, and more of us craving the colours, textures and (of course) scents of flowers more than ever in these uncertain times… floral inspiration is springing up all over!

Penhaligon’s have published a fascinating guide to the ancient ‘Language of Flowers‘ – the hidden meanings attached to seemingly innocent blooms, and how these could be used to send secret messages that bypassed stringent social ettiquette in the past…

What’s more, Penhaligon’s are inviting you to construct your own virtual bouquet to send to someone special, and when you sign up to their Penhaligon’s Times newsletter, both you and your friend will receive a £10 gift voucher to enjoy.

 

 

The newsletter is always packed full of interesting scented snippets, and here is their explantion of that secret scented Language of Flowers, first printed in the Penhaligon’s Times:

‘What could be more pleasurable than receiving an unexpected bunch of flowers! A bunch of bluebells to brighten a day. Lily of the Valley to celebrate a lover’s return, or a simple rose to nurture a budding romance. How much more pleasurable may be if the flowers themselves carry a hidden meaning. From ancient times flowers have been symbolic. The Romans honoured their heroes with laurel wreaths and Greek mythology tells how many flowers were created.

Poets have always extolled the virtues of flowers, and since Elizabethan times have written on their meanings. But it was the Victorians who turned flower-giving into an art. Inspired by a book entitled Le Langage de Fleurs by Madame de la Tour, the Victorians practised the new floral code with the same dedication with which they built their cities and furnished their homes.

The choice of flower was all important, but so too was the manner of presentation. If the flowers were upside down the opposite meaning was intended. Thus tulips presented with their stems uppermost meant blatant rejection from a lover. If the ribbon was tied to the left, the meaning referred to the giver, if tied to the right, to the recipient. On the other hand, one could always respond by wearing the flower in different ways – on her heart of course meant love, but worn in the hair implied caution. Both are acceptable locations for a light mist of scent.’

 

 

So now, what will your virtual bouquet say in this secret Language of Flowers, we wonder…?

Written by Suzy Nightingale

The scented secrets of the Queen’s coronation anointing oil…

The fascinating recent BBC documentary delving behind-the-scenes of the Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953, held a scented secret for sharp-eyed fragrance fans… did you spot it?

While discussing the ancient rituals of the act of anointing the monarch, our eyes were drawn to the oil itself – rather incongruously kept nestled in a battered old box and bottle of Guerlain‘s Mitsouko!

May we admit experiencing a momentary thrill that the BBC had uncovered our Queen as a secret perfumista, who’d insisted on being anointed with a fabulous Chypre? We’d definitely consider being baptised in Mitsouko, but it turned out it was just the bottle and box. Oh well. No matter, for the story of the oil’s recipe was rather deliciously revealed…

The oil was made from a secret mixture in sesame and olive oil, containing ambergris, civet, orange flowers, roses, jasmine, cinnamon, musk and benzoin– actually sounding rather Oriental in its composition – and must surely have smelled glorious.

The anointing ritual is always hidden from view – a private moment for the monarch to reflect on their duties and the significance of being touched by that oil – and so a canopy was held over the Queen by four Knights of the Garter, and the televison cameras turned respectfully away, as the Archbishop anointed her with the fragrant holy oil on her hands, breast and head.

Quite a scent memory.

In fact, the phial containing the original oil had been destroyed in a bombing raid on the Deanery in May 1941. The firm of chemists who’d mixed the last known anointing oil had gone bust, so a new company, Savory and Moore Ltd, was asked by the Surgeon-Apothecary to mix a new supply, based on the ancient recipe, for the Coronation. We’d quite like them to whip up a batch for us, too.

During the ritual, the highly scented oil was poured from Charles II’s Ampulla (the eagle-shaped vessel shown above) into a 12th-century spoon. One imagines the Archbishop’s hands must have shook just a little during this procedure – thank goodness for that canopy. Meanwhile, the choir sang one of the most thrillingly dramatic songs in history: “Zadok the Priest”. The words are taken from the first Book of Kings, and have been sung at every coronation since King Edgar’s in 973, but the anointment ritual is even older, going back to King Solomon supposedly being anointed by Zadok himself in the 10th century BC.

Of course the rest of the Coronation was an extraordinary display of magnificent jewels and robes and the peculiarities of historical traditions played out ‘like a ballet’, as the programme described, but our minds kept returning to the mysteries of the anointing oil, what the Queen must have thought as she smelled it (was it the first time she’d smelled the oil?) and how it’s still, charmingly, kept in that tatty old bottle and box of Mitsouko.

Now then, to whom did that bottle once belong? For whomever they were, we congratulate them on their taste…

Those of you who missed the documentary can watch it while it’s still on BBC iPlayer.

Written by Suzy Nightingale