In the nineteenth century growing flowers meant much more than a hobby, especially for women.
Victorian women grew flowers because it was the moral thing to do. Growing flowers, in fact, became itself a lesson in morality.
Nicolette Scourse in her book The Victorians and their Flowers says, “The Victorians inherited a tradition of flower morality originating from the Book of Genesis.”
Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often wrote that the first garden was that of Adam and Even, the Garden of Paradise. Vick saw it as his job to spread floriculture, or the love of flowers, across the country, a kind of return to the first garden.Scourse writes, “The presence of weeds and other difficulties of cultivation were directly attributed to Man’s disobedience rather than any natural cause favoring weed dispersal.”
John Lindley (1799-1865), famed horticulturist and a member of the Royal Horticultural Society at age 23, once said “The love of flowers is a holy feeling, inseparable from our very nature.”
The chromolithograph [above] from the Parker and Wood seed catalog of 1887 illustrated twenty-five varieties of flowers that gardeners could grow from the company’s seeds. As the illustration mentioned at the bottom in the words “Painted from Nature,” it reflects the importance of flowers for the middle class Victorian gardener.
At the same time as flowers provided a lesson in morality, flowers also opened the doors of science to many, including women. People could study a flower and learn about its reproductive habits.
Flowers provided lessons in biology, giving many Victorians a first hand look at how science could enable a more learned society.
In 1844 English gardener Louisa Johnson wrote the book Every lady her own flower gardener as kind of a plea for women to discover themselves in the world of flowers. And, of course, it was not long before people began to write about ‘the language of flowers.’
And to think it all rested on the humble flower.