Floriography – moving forward

There exists a copy of ‘The Language of Australian Flowers’, written by George Robertson and Company, printed in 1891. It at first reads as a blissful time spent with flowers and shared as encouragement to British friends to make the journey to Australia. A whimsy poetry to take the strange and distant land and show a similarity to their northern home.

However when removing the white lens given to me by my colonised education, I can see that what was written inspired by lovely day spent by the river thinking of friends, actively contributed to racism, genocide and harm. It was created to further ensure British colonies remained established in these distant lands.

When the social media trends slow down, and the buzz of daily life allows us to fall comfortably in our privileges again, how do we maintain the focus to dismantle the systems of oppression that exist? How do we challenge our own racial bias? How will we step beyond the ‘important conversations’ and take action?

I’m slowly stitching a little collection of Australian flora from the old pages of this floriography poetry. Panels of embroidery to challenge these social ideals that do not deserve a role in our modern society. If we were to let them decompose and rot, just as the garden soil needs, can you imagine what would flourish in its place?

A close up of logs chopped in a wood stack. pinned to this is two pieces of cloth, each with florals embroidered on them. A green vine creeps along through.

Floriography – a brief history.

Flowers and the garden have, as I would guess for many others, always been a place to land as the days pass me; a spot for a pause.

Be it sitting with them, or creative makings inspired by them, there is not a flower that hasn’t made me smile (even the ones that eat the flies).

But, like many of us, I’m learning that there’s not a thing I think I know that hasn’t been impacted by colonisation and racism. Flowers included.

For me that means I no longer wander the fields of flowers and forests of tall trees without wondering how I know what I know and what knowledge existed before white arrival.

Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wretching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage, need not be lived again”.

What is Floriography?

Symbolism has been given to flowers for thousands of years across many cultures. The celebration of birth as birthdays are thought to have begun with the Romans, who began gifting flowers for this occasion as folk culture.

Floriography, the language of flowers – a poetic, romantic, almost rebellious method of cryptic communication using flowers and floral arrangements – finds its roots in British colonial times.

While floriography and birth month flowers are definitely not a science, I think it’s a nice reminder that we are of the earth: a flower to mark our arrival from the womb, sharing strengths with what was blossoming from the soil as you were born.

Floriography gained popularity in a time of stifling social etiquette and oppression. Class and gender were two of the largest social conventions used to organise Victorian society. Gender ideology thrived under misguided and misinterpreted biological science. Time spent with flowers was seen as an acceptable feminine hobby (cringe). You also needed to be rich enough to afford both the flowers and the time to enjoy them. Class was divided just as much economically as it was culturally, with occupations, family structures, sexuality, education, politics and how you rested, all determining your position within society.

Flowers were grown and gathered into ‘talking bouquets’ called tussie-mussies or nosegays, people combing through the pages of the flower dictionaries to discover what secret message had arrived through their bouquet.

Joseph Hammer-Purgstall’s ‘Dictionnaire du language des fleurs’ appears to be the first published list giving flowers a symbolic meaning, in 1809. Under the pen name Madame Charollette de la Tour, Louise Cortambert publishes the first dictionary of flowers in 1819, ‘Le Langage des Fleurs’. Following this, ‘The Language of Flowers’ illustrated by Kate Greenway was first published in 1884 and continues to be printed to this day.

A whole range of human emotions that society expected to be kept hidden could be carried in these bouquets; your joy for your lesbian lover, your disdain for your forced marriage, your unrequited love. Here found a subtle way for you to express your truth.

Floriography and the Colonisers (no, this isn’t a cool band)

Botanical science grew in popularity as more and more white men discovered (invaded) far away lands.

Not a living thing was spared from this quest for scientific knowledge. Human, animal, plant. Taken from the land, studied, labeled and cultivated to grow back in Britain.

Beyond the petticoats and petals is a brutal, thieving trauma.

White people have a habit of taking what they find acceptable, mysterious and interesting of other cultures, while removing, in extreme and harmful ways, the parts they do not. For flowers, it is no different.

As I wandered the history of floriography, I came across Lady Mary Wortley Montague, a feminist poet and aristocrat, whose story shares the beginnings of the British interest in floriography. Following her death in 1763, her travel letters were published, and it is through these we can see how cultural appropriation is at the beginnings of floriography.

As the British colonised as much of the world as they wanted, Lady Mary Wortley Montague found herself in Turkey having had to follow her husband to the British outpost there. Here she observes the haram in the Court of Constantinople using flowers to quietly communicate among each other.

She writes in letters home ‘There is no colour, no flower, no weed, no fruit, herb, pebble or feather, that has not a verse belonging to it; and you may quarrel, reproach or send letters of passion, friendship or civility or even news, without ever inking your fingers.’

It’s fair then, I think, if we are to talk the language of flowers, we need to acknowledge the Orientalism of floriography.

Facing our past

I acknowledge the diverse and rich culture and connection First Nations Peoples have with Country and the impacts Colonialism has had on people and land. There is language, connection and culture to these flowers and land that existed for tens of thousands of years, long before British arrival.

Historically, the white British man’s rush to validate themselves as scientists and botanists, to take the land as their own, erased an opportunity to exchange information and learn from this land and her people – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Before the Latin labels and the names of the white men and their mates were placed on them, the flowers here had names and meaning.

Right now, we are sitting at a time in history where, as Maya says, we can’t undo what our colonising ancestors did, but we can face it, learn from it and set our individual understanding and collective future in a different direction.

For example, Indigenous knowledge for fire management can be valued, appreciated and leading our bush fire responses. Our future could be safer and calmer if so.

Removing the white lens of how we have come to know things opens space for new thinking and approaches to our days. I no longer seek out the Latin names for our beautiful flowers and stop there, assuming that is all I have to know.

What a shame it is we can all sing ‘give me a home among the gumtrees’ but know not the place name for these tall giants. What a shame that so many of us are only beginning to learn the place name of where we live & their language.

What a brighter, more inclusive future we could have if we could all seek to broaden our individual understanding.

So, what now?

Pondering on floriography in the context of understanding this history, I initially felt the need to bin it all.

But considering it was used as a cryptic means of communicating what was not to be spoken, I wonder if it’s possible to use floriography as a way to open space for us as white Australians to listen.

Everything we think we know is tainted with racism and we must take steps each day to confront, unlearn and reset. Little questions to ourselves that begin a journey inwards of discomfort and learning that will echo out into the world.

There can be – and there needs to be – more to my embroidery than just pretty flowers.

I acknowledge the Darkinyung people as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters – and flowers- on which I live and write. I extend this acknowledgement to the traditional custodians of every Aboriginal and Torres Strait nation across Australia for they are the ultimate knowledge holders.

I am sharing this with an intention of bringing you with me on my journey of unlearning. While I have put time into researching this topic, history of anything holds complexities far too deep to touch on in one blog post.

It’s always been the trees

a little leaf, a little time, a little stitch

The grevillea in the front of my childhood home was large enough for me to climb and perch in, I could watch the bees, butterflies and birds all day, hidden up there. The honey yellows and soft peachy pinks of the funny shaped grevillea blossoms will always be my part of childhood memories. Gosh I loved that tree.

It doesn’t surprise me that I find myself here, drawn instinctively back to where the loudness can hush a little.

A very shadowy table with baskets of leaves, piles of fabric and a pot of avocado seeds. There is a vase of flowers in the top corner.

Botanical dying allows me to bring that love of the garden and all things growing into my art process. A fallen branch or dropped petals, the inevitable food scraps that come with feeding family, are not yet ready for compost piles. There is still magic to come.

A shot taken from above on a brown wooden deck. There are fresh gum leaves, a pot and two feet in old boots.

The dance of the dye pots has nestled so gently into my motherhood rhythm. A constant hum as I shuffle pots about. Some pots for food, some for fabric.

A white kitchen shelf with an arrangement of things scattered across. a jar of soaking eggshells, withered flowers and a baby dummy are the main items.


My abstract embroidery DIY kits and the thread palettes for you to choose are inspired by my days. Bundling these packages up, so that you may explore your own creativity brings a beautiful beat to my dance.

A collection of fabrics, threads. an embroidery hoop and some driftwood are framed by a vine and sit on a white background.


A little piece of hand dyed fabric and selection of threads is my calm place. My racing mind slowing to the steady pace of my hands.

Let’s pause the blur

Time to press pause on the scenes that are usually a blur from the passenger windows as we rush past, on our way to this and that. Time for slow. For fresh air and dirt. Time for a wonder. To play. Let’s pause a while longer.

A bush setting with a young person in the foreground. They are holding a map and skipping along the sandy path.

Not that it is ever needed to encourage adventure, the little map his hands hold never fails to spark imaginative play as we walk. A fallen log now a ship with a slimy, snoozing octopus who guards a golden treasure. We tippie-toe past. An exaggerated ssssshhhh. A little wonder as we wander.

A pirate map sits on a desk with seed pods. driftwood, a compass and some sea glass surrounding it. two little toddler hands and a wisp of blonde curls are above the map, reading it's directions.

Those chubby toddler hands that still will reach for mine – my gold.

A hand embroidered adventure map for your own little treasures can be found in my Etsy store. These are custom made, so we can make these a special fit for your own adventures if you’d like.

A close up of pink-bearded heath, a small native shrub. The flowers a white with furry edges. The leaves are dark green and thin.

And whilst he may be here in hopes of finding something shiny, I’m getting lost in the flowers. Pink bearded heath (I think) the tiniest flowers with the sweetest scent, like breathing honey as you pass.

A close up of a waxflower bush. The petals are white and the leaves are dark green.

Come a play a while the tea tree sings.

Hyacinth Orchid ~ A free embroidery pattern

The days are a little wobbly at the moment aren’t they? So much uncertainty I find myself swinging between a useless puddle of tears, to moving around the house with nervous energy.

Embroidery is my mindfulness, my mind slowing down to the speed of my fingers. I’m sharing this pattern to share my slow with you. I know that not all of us are in a position to sit and stitch, I know that this time right now is heavy and dark for so many. I hope that by sharing this little native flower pattern with you, it can bring a comfort, a connection, a distraction. I hope it finds you safe & well. Not about perfectly recreating something, it is just simply something for worrying hands to do. Drop your shoulders, make some tea, ignore the weight of your worries for just a little while.

The language of flowers, floriography, brings a message or meaning to different flowers. I enjoy using it as a little guide in my work. The native hyacinth orchid speaks of hope. It is a single stem orchid that shoots up from the undergrowth, no leaves, just bright pink blossoms standing tall. A sight that would surely lift your spirits.

This pattern requires only two styles to complete. Satin and split stitch. I’m a self taught embroidery artist, so I’m teaching you as I do these stitches, I’m sure there is a more technically correct method, but it’s all about enjoyment and this is how I like to stitch. Below is a PDF file that walks you through the stitches needed and provides a pattern and guide.

All right, here goes, my very first pattern for everyone to share, I hope you enjoy x

Welcome to the ramble.

Here I am, starting a blog in 2020. There’s a voice inside that says, ‘are you mad? No one reads blogs these days, why are you bothering?’ Luckily there’s another voice cheering, ‘it’s 2020, get out there, you’re worthy of space. TAKE. IT. UP.’ That voice also came over and helped me put this page together. Friends are gold.

I want a space to jot the rambling thoughts that spill as I wander to the compost. A space that isn’t Marks’ where I can share what brings me joy. To be read by others isn’t the goal, to just start is. To stop sitting on the side lines and get out there. To nurture and grow a love of words and pictures.

So if you’re here, expect a little bit of dye, a little bit of embroidery and little bit of an occasional blog from a sleep deprived mother who overthinks all the things. I can’t be the only one that last sentence describes. If that’s you too, maybe you’ll say hi here, I hope so.