A Special Valentine Idea – introducing the Tussie Mussie

12th February 2011
What do you normally give on Valentine’s Day? Maybe you like to conjure up something original in the form of your own special gift. Or make your own Valentine’s card for that very special someone. A lot of people send flowers to their Valentine. But what kind of flowers? And did you know that there is a whole, almost-forgotten hidden language and code concerning flowers, foliage and all their individual meanings?


Flowers have always had symbolic significance. The Greeks crowned their heroes with laurel, and in our own Christian tradition the Annunciation came with an angel bearing a lily flower. Shakespeare has around 200 references to flowers in his works. And the Victorians went through a craze of flower language, sending each other tiny posies of cut flowers called Tussie Mussies. This was a term first used in Tudor times, by the way. Because every flower had its own special meaning assigned to it, these could contain sophisticated messages, anything from love and friendship, to jealousy and resentment. And all the numerous shades in-between.
small bunch of cut flowers
You can easily make your own Valentine’s posy with whatever is available, though unfortunately on the bleak winter days of February there isn’t too much out there in our gardens to choose from. But dried flowers are OK, and most florists stock flowers ‘out of season’ anyway. It doesn’t matter how humble your efforts for Valentines' Day. It will be all yours, and original. You can also convey all manner of subtle ideas and passions with the flowers themselves. (Don’t worry, you are permitted to enclose a little card listing the flowers in your Valentine posy along with a definition of their individual meanings.)

Here are just a few examples from the Victorians to give you an idea.
The flowers:
A single rose of some sort is frequently found at the centre of the posy. Roses, as most of us know, mean love – with the additional meaning of red roses for passion, and white roses for unity and the more respectful kinds of attachment. Then, arrange some further small flowers around the rose. For example try adding ...

Honeysuckle – meaning generous and devoted – conscious of the bonds of love.
Sweet Marjoram – for joy and happiness.
Forget-me-Knots – for remembrance and never forgetting love.
Hostas – for devotion.
Fern leaves (or fronds) – for fascination.
Lavender – for devotion. But can also signify mistrust, so be careful with those! That’s where the subtlety comes in.
young woman in Victorian fashions with small flowers in hand
A young Queen Victoria with Tussie Mussie.
banner image of queen victoria face with red text, black background


Keep the stems short. Tie them up with a little decorative tape or fine wire and wrap a napkin of doily around the stems (that is, by making a hole in the centre of the doily first). A ribbon tied around is also a nice way to finish everything off – usually with longish streamers left on. The whole thing should be no more than can be held comfortably in the hand. The Victorians used to have tussie mussie holders. These could often be very ornate and sophisticated objects.

Whatever you use, make sure there are no thorns sticking out of those roses! And then you have the perfect special Valentine's Day gift for that very special person.
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

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