The Meaning of Flowers

In Italy we are famous for our many ways of communicating. In fact, in addition to language, we like to express feelings or moods through gestures, expressions or simply by giving flowers. We donate them to friends and relatives on every occasion in life, good or bad it may be. A bouquet of flowers means “I am next to you, you are in my thoughts”.

However, flowers are also a memory, the symbol of past moments to which we will be eternally linked. Such as the flowers of the house by the sea where I used to go as a child or the poppies that filled the lawn near my elementary school; or even like a sunflower, which will always remind me of my mother and her love for this flower.

Far and wide, our life is pervaded by it. Most of the flowers originate far from the asphalt and large urban centers, but to find some, just stroll through the markets of your city.

In fact, on a sunny spring morning, walking through the center of Rome, I came across what is one of the most iconic markets: the Campo de ‘Fiori market. Crossing the square, if you come from via dei Giubbonari, you find yourself in the midst of stalls full of many different things, from fruit to household items.

Going further and passing the monument dedicated to the philosopher Giordano Bruno, we arrive at the end of the market. Here is the part dedicated to flowers and, among roses and orchids, carnations and daisies, I feel the irrepressible desire to take them all.

I get closer and start observing them carefully. Looking closely, you can see the small veins of the petals, as well as the light shades that from a distance create the optical effect of a single color. I have never been a green thumb and until recently I hardly remembered the names of the most famous flowers, but lately I have found myself observing them more carefully and I realize that I am also gradually able to distinguish them; in the end you don’t need great books, just notice the details, look at the shape of the petals, their size or the internal composition of the pistils.

In fact, as soon as I arrive in that corner of the market, my gaze is immediately captured by the beauty of the lilies. This flower, one of the most loved in Italy, I associate it with one of my closest friends, the person I grew up with, starting from school to the world of work. She, Martina, has this flower tattooed on her skin which represents her bond with her mother. It is in fact with Martina that I learned the intrinsic meaning of the lily: purity; and it is always thanks to her that today, every time I see one, I think of the indissoluble union that unites a daughter to her mother and vice versa. According to an ancient legend, while the mother of Hercules was breastfeeding her child, her milk was dispersed throughout the Universe, forming the Milky Way; a few drops, however, fell to the ground and gave rise to the lilies.

Moving my gaze a little, I cross the daisies, the flower par excellence, the first one I learned to draw. I remember that as a child, when I accompanied my father to work, I was always in the garden of his office. I was waiting for him sitting on the lawn, warmed by a beautiful sun while I was playing with the many daisies around me. I enjoyed making crowns or bracelets and then, before leaving, I gave them to my colleagues and those of my dad.

When I ask one of the gentlemen behind the counter for what occasion he would give this flower he smiles at me and says “have you seen how beautiful it is? If it were up to me I would put it everywhere, I would fill the squares with daisies! The daisy is pure, and it always remains beautiful. For many it represents goodness of soul, innocence, but for me it is precisely the beauty of simple things “.

One thing that comes to mind while gazing at the daisy is also that famous game of “loves me, loves me not”. I haven’t played it much, but out of curiosity I went to look for the origin of this custom. According to a legend, it seems that it derives from the queen of France Margaret of Provence, who used to leaf through the petals of this flower to make sure that her husband, Louis IX, a prisoner of the Saracens, returned safe and sound. The queen’s daisies were a gift from her brother, who suggested that she remove the petals to count the days until her beloved returned. She thus kept all the daisy petals she had torn and when the king was released, she showed them to him as a testimony of her love and fidelity.

I keep taking pictures when I am struck by small flowers, some purple, some white, all with a very delicate appearance. Behind the counter there is a young woman who has just greeted a passing acquaintance. I asked her the name of these flowers, and she was almost surprised that I didn’t know; “they’re primroses” the flower that blooms before all the others, sometimes even towards the end of winter. She also tells me that they are a wish for the summer to arrive, perhaps precisely because they arrive first. In fact, legend has it that Apollo, son of Zeus, sent the first primrose to Earth to protect it from frost: Primula derives from the Latin primus, meaning “before”. 

Walking among the many flower bouquets, almost as if it were a colored carpet, I am assaulted by long and tall stems covered with flowers. “Those are the Gladioli,” another gentleman from the counter next door tells me pointing at these very tall plants with light and soft petals. I discovered that they are given as gifts to show respect for a person and are a good omen for those who are about to face a change in their life. “But usually people buy them because they make a scene, they are big and showy. If you want to impress someone with a nice bouquet of flowers, you can’t miss them, ”he tells me. “If you notice, in fact, they are always at weddings, white ones obviously. They have always been used, partly out of tradition, partly because you look at them: a few is enough to make an entire room beautiful!”

Among those few flowers that I have learned to recognize, there are obviously also violets. Small and delicate, they are easy to remember as their name indicates their very color. Antonio, the florist who shows them to me, tells me that it is difficult for people to ask for a bouquet of only violets, but that putting them in the middle of a mixed bouquet changes everything: the deep and unusual color makes everything more mysterious and intense. Antonio also tells me about the legend behind this flower: “you know, don’t you? That there is practically a mythological story about the birth of every flower? Sometimes even more than one!” he says laughing. One day Demeter – goddess of crops – realized that her daughter Persephone had been kidnapped by Hades – god of the underworld. As a symbol of her pain Demeter made the earth dry and without plants; Zeus, to try to resolve the situation, convinced Hades to let Persephone stay with her mother from spring until autumn. And so, Demeter created a path with a carpet of flowers that could recall Persephone’s eyes.

 I already knew this legend, I had read it somewhere on the internet but, as often happens, it is different if you find someone willing to tell you about it. It becomes like a fairy tale: you can imagine and visualize the scenes, often ending up becoming fond of the story and in this case, the flower in question.