In the Language of Flowers

Bleeding hearts.
Bleeding hearts.

The bleeding hearts never cease to amaze me—such exotic and fragile looking flowers, and yet their leaves are up sometimes through the snow, and that flash of bright pink out in the yard in April is almost shocking in all the muted debris of winter. But that’s precisely why I wanted it to grow where it is, that and the little heart-shaped purses.

As Mimi and I have spent time in the yard we’ve also spent some time in the area I have always maintained as a little memorial to felines who’ve shared our lives and moved on to another existence. This area includes the sleeping kitty statue given to me as a gift from a friend who I had helped through the losses of two of her cats, just after losing two of mine. Underneath this statue I have placed most or all of the cremains of each of the cats who’ve lived with me. The area is part of the woodland garden area of the yard, quiet and protected in all times of the year, but easily seen from all areas in the back of my house and all areas in my back yard so that I can look there at any time and feel those spirits are still with us. Here is a fuller photo of what the statue looks like (from the year I had to replace it, and it bloomed three weeks later).

The kitty statue with protecting plants, and bleeding heart leaning over it.
The kitty statue with protecting plants, and bleeding heart leaning over it.

The Herculean effort of each tender flower to push up through the soil, push aside the heavy protective cover of dried leaves and stems from last year’s garden, is nature’s desire to push aside the past to be a part of the present with their re-emergence, and the future with their flowers.

It also includes plants that bloom all through the year, but especially in spring, some I’ve added by choice and reason while others volunteered their presence, wild plants native to my area. The Herculean effort of each tender flower to push up through the soil, push aside the heavy protective cover of dried leaves and stems from last year’s garden is nature’s desire to push aside the past to be a part of the present with their re-emergence and the future with their flowers. I pull away those leaves and stems and watch the area transform into the place as I always envision it, as I’ve photographed and painted it, the cover of deep green of the myrtle, mid-green spikes of the daffodil fronds and bright green frills of the ferns and bleeding heart leaves which are soon dotted here and there with yellow and pink and purple and blue, a miracle born in only weeks where frozen soil and grey and brown leaves and twigs had held it in hibernation.

All plants have had a symbolism in myriad belief systems throughout human history, but spring flowers have the deepest symbolism of renewal and rebirth, as well as the continuation of the cycles of life. I’ve also included flowers, or had the flowers themselves join the garden, that bloom at other times of the year so that there is always something blooming in this garden. Watching the growth and change, the colors and shapes, through the year brings me such comfort.

The daffodils have been blooming, the forget-me-nots have finally begun, the periwinkle has pushed her way up from under the leaves and sprouted the first few blossoms, the cranesbill geraniums are densely leaved, rhododendrons have fat buds and the phlox is growing new leaves each day. The raspberries are sprouting new canes, a few autumn asters have sprouted and the bleeding hearts, are enthusiastically standing tall and bright green and were among the first to bloom. Despite the fact that I’ve gardened most of my life I’m not one to purchase plants. Most of these plants showed up on their own, and some I moved there from other areas in the yard, others were given to me, or found in notable circumstances and I decided they belonged there. There are others I’d like to include but they don’t grow well under those conditions and as a gardener I know better than to force life to thrive where it doesn’t belong.

Flower symbolism has transformed from the dawn of time through the ages to today, from magic to teleflorists, and you can find just about any interpretation of a flower to suit what you want. While some of my most meaningful interpretations are only found in the books in my library, these are some of the interpretations that rang true in my soul, and links to more information.

The flowers and their meanings

Daffodils

The daffodil‘s trumpet heralds the rebirth of living things in spring as this flower’s brilliant yellow, white and orange has heralded spring since humans first saw them, and as it is of the genus narcissus it also advises spreading your love to others rather than loving only yourself. The pale yellow ones below I planted in honor of Allegro, my orange boy. The others came from an abandoned farm site far in the woods where the house was gone but where the flowers still bloomed around the foundation, and I felt such love remained for the flowers, for nature, and the beauty they gave that I dug up as many as I could, and I cherish these.

The special pale yellow daffodils I had planted with Allegro.
The special pale yellow daffodils I had planted with Allegro.

Forget-me-nots

I mention the forget-me-nots here all the time—they were the first seeds I tossed into my yard the month I moved here, October 1990, marking my beginnings of transforming this little lot into what it is today, and have been filling my yard with a blue wave of memories each year since then and bloom all over as well as in this garden. They symbolize faithfulness and remembrance, especially of those small and easily forgotten.

The first forget-me-nots this year.
The first forget-me-nots this year.

Periwinkle

Periwinkle is deeply symbolic to many cultures and in many ways, from its calming color to its unifying shape to its perennial, evergreen habit, a symbol of eternity and of being, of life force; it is a harbinger of spring and a reminder of the “dear departed” because, though it seems delicate and fragile, it pushes aside the leaves of the previous year to spread its green leaves and bloom, and its glossy evergreen leaves withstand both freezing temperatures and heat. The periwinkle appeared when I first developed the woodland garden, a year after I moved here, as if it had been waiting.

creeping myrtle flower
Creeping Myrtle

Cranesbill Geraniums

Geraniums generally symbolize health and family, but the cranesbill geranium, blooming only in spring, symbolizes long life as it has been used by most cultures in the world to cure many ills and promote health and wellness, and because its seed pods resemble the crane it also carries the symbolism of the crane itself, joy and eternal life. The cranesbills showed up after I had begun to let areas of my yard “go wild”, and I moved them to the site later.

Cranesbill geraniums
Cranesbill geraniums

Rhododendron

The rhododendron is actually highly toxic and has been used as a symbol of danger, evil and a warning, yet those symbols have also been turned around to provide protection from those very evils they represent, standing as a guard to ward them off. I found an abandoned plant nursery along the creek where I hike and canoe, and the overgrown plants all around me in that valley along the water made me feel like Alice in Wonderland, and I did feel the spirit of a young child there; I dug up a few small rhododendron starts though I had no idea they would be this delicate pale pink, and added them to my woodland garden.

Pale pink rhododendron.
Pale pink rhododendron.

Phlox

The phlox I grow here is the tall variety that blooms summer into fall, is fragrant and invites nearly every insect and bird to come and share its nectar and nourishment, and because of that and its five unified petals it symbolizes the unity of souls. This precious phlox was given to me by an elderly neighbor in another neighborhood years ago, whose mother had given it to her when she married and bought the house she lived in, and the phlox had been given to her mother by another mother, and so on, generations back.

A dark phase tiger swallowtail on phlox.
A dark phase tiger swallowtail on phlox.

Raspberries

Who knew raspberries had a deep symbolism? They have been both nourishment and health and mysticism since humans discovered them at the dawn of time and because the plant’s canes grow one year, produce the next, and then die back, we are reminded that love and self must be patient and mature to produce our best, ripen and then let go as our passing supports the life of others to come. The raspberries have long been symbolic to me as well as important to my own health, leaves and all, and appeared here on their own.

Raspberries, complements of the birds!
Raspberries, complements of the birds!

Asters

Asters are the stars given to us by the tears of the gods as they saw what we humans would do to each other. They are a symbol fidelity, faith and wisdom, and it is not lost on me that they are the last plant to begin blooming in my yard, blooming until frost, providing those departing species of birds and insects with their last meal before the great journey of migration, and the place where those same insects lay their eggs and build nests on plants that will nurture them come spring. I have always deeply loved asters from the time I first began wandering the abandoned pasture across the street from the house I grew up in to today along the trails and in the woods, the abundance of tiny white or pink or bluish flowers blooming at the end of the summer’s abundance into the beginnings of autumn and winter.

Many Flowered Aster leaning over the picnic table.
Many Flowered Aster leaning over the picnic table.

Bleeding Heart

And the bleeding heart? I had planted one in that spot the first year I established the memorial garden, 1996, but with successive droughts in my area it simply failed to appear a few years ago despite watering and mulching, or perhaps 15 years was its lifespan. I was bereft when for the second year no sprouts appeared and decided I might let it go as that might be a symbol as well. But in 2013, the year after I lost both Cookie and Kelly I decided I needed to find a bleeding heart to replace the one I’d lost. The symbolism? That should be obvious.

Bleeding Hearts and Forget Me Nots
Bleeding Hearts and Forget Me Nots

Below, Mimi observes the sleeping kitty, daffodils and sprouts of the bleeding heart along with me. The memories are carried on.

Mimi wanders there to make me look.
Mimi wanders there to make me look.

Read other stories and essays about Pet Loss as well as my Pet Loss in the First Person series. Also read other Essays.


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A custom memorial votive for Oscar.
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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

4 thoughts on “In the Language of Flowers

  • May 6, 2019 at 4:45 pm
    Permalink

    My brother split his bleeding heart and gave me a piece to plant, when I had to put our feral Sammy down. Unfortunately, I must have yanked it out by accident last year, ’cause it’s nowhere to be seen this Spring. I’m an imperfect gardener, but I’m working on installing native plants, to encourage butterflies, bees, and bats into the yard.

    Reply
    • May 11, 2019 at 12:08 am
      Permalink

      Yes, those things can happen. Bleeding hearts actually are a native plant, but other than the irises and a few other old-fashioned favorites, all in my yard are natives. It’s fun to see nature at work.

      Reply
  • May 5, 2019 at 2:53 pm
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    Those are all such pretty flowers. The pictures are terrific. Nothing better than flowers to make one smile. You all have a super day.

    Reply

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