My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Lily says “You’re a good friend,” and Camellia wishes “Good Luck.” Daisy promises, “I will never tell.” They talk in silence, and their beautiful reserve is all the more appreciated by the sophisticated secret messages they carry. It’s the elaborate world of Floriography, language of flowers, based upon the legends and folklore ascribed to flowers exquisitely developed in the Victorian period, when an expression of feelings and emotions was constrained as an indication of propriety and ethical virtue. For years, Floriography has been something of flower-version of Morse Codes through the use or arrangement of flowers to deliver particular sentiments in the most subtly compelling way among those who find a niche in a quiet revelation of emotions and yearnings safely guarded in the secret garden of heart. In this regard, The Secret Language of Flowers by Samantha Gray is a treasure garden of 50 flowers speaking in their own words with beautiful illustrations that promises a dazzling treat to the eye as well as the mind of the reader.
Of the 50 flowers of Gray’s own choice, my selection of flowers is threefold: Crocuses and Lilies for their meanings that chime the bells of my heart resonate with their stories and meanings. A crocus, dedicated to St. Valentine, a Roman physician and a Christian priest during the reign of Claudius II, was sentenced to death for his faith and just before his execution, Valentine gave a jailer whose blind daughter he had treated a note for her in which he had wrapped a saffron crocus, the source of healing herb, saffron. As the girl opened the note, her sight was restored, and it was the yellow crocus she first saw that was shining like the golden sun. The message the condemned physician wrote was: “From Your Valentine”. It is said that if anyone who likes crocuses has a deeply spiritual aspect to his/her nature expressed in writing, painting, dancing, and music with a caring heart.
Lilies symbolize female beauty, purity, majesty, and charm against evil. Legend has it that a lily sprang from Eve’s tears as she was expelled from the Garden of Eden. It also has a different name of “Our Lady’s tears” as it came to being due to the tears by Virgin Mary – also revered as the Second Eve – at the Crucifixion. Furthermore, it is said that when Mary’s tomb was opened, Thomas, one of the Twelve Disciples, saw that her body had been assumed into heaven, and the place was filled with fragrant lilies. However, a sacredness of lilies do not confine in Christianity in the history of civilization. A lily was first discovered in the garden of an ancient villa in Crete about 1500 BC; it was dedicated to the Greek goddess Hera. According to legend, Zeus intoxicated Hera to nurse his son Hercules whose mother was a beautiful mortal woman named Alceme. When Hera awoke, she chucked the baby out of her breasts in horrified surprise, during which some of her milk gushed through the skies, creating a cluster of stars – the Milky Way- and some of it fell to the Earth, from which grew the first lilies.
Further to the divine touch of this modest pure beauty, lilies are known to ward off evil power associated with curses, omens, and possessions. Planting lilies in a garden protected it from ghosts and evil spirits, and monks accordingly grew them for decorating altars like stairways to heaven. But the most interesting fact about lilies that piqued my special attention is that it has been used as a tonic for strengthening a weak memory by applying it on the forehead and on the back of the head. Besides, it is known to boost common sense and impediment of speech. So maybe it’s high time that the reader in search of a magic portion to improve academic performance or develop the faculty of the mind wanted to check local herbalists to procure a tonic made from lilies.
Reading this book is like walking through the author’s private garden full of enchanted flowers that are in full bloom lovingly cared for by the gardener who understands the language they speak in silence. At the heart of this book lies the author’s love of Nature and Humanity that is fancifully nuanced in her story-telling like narrative with a collection of her own paintings that I find soothing and loving. Each of the 50 flowers speaks to the heart of the reader in its own language that is magical and fascinating in this world of grand collapsed grand hokum, fake news, and many a competing vehement opinions out of unbridled angst and anxiousness in a paroxysm of existential vertigo. Both a painter and a writer, Gray draws the reader to the world of Nature where the earth laughs in flowers. Upon reading this book, the reader cannot help but agree with Hans Christian Anderson: “Just living is not enough… One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” This is a beautiful read that tallies with its beautiful subject.