Have you ever stared at your garden wondering what different flowers symbolize and represent? Or what a white rose means compared to a red one? The plants we utilize in our landscapes, perennial gardens and annuals boxes have greater historical and psychological significance than we might realize. In this blog, we’ll explain the meanings behind five popular landscape plants and their various colored flowers. If you’re thinking about what to plant this upcoming season, or want some fun facts for what’s already in your garden, read on!
It’s commonly said that magnolias represent nobility, perseverance and a love of nature above all else. In existence for longer than the bees that pollinate them, these spring-blooming trees produce an attractive variety that’s not easy to miss, given their rather large size. While their fragrant blooms are most often various shades of white, they can be found in pink, mauve, peach, yellow, purple and other, more colorful, varieties as well. Like many white flowers, those of the common magnolia are often associated with purity and dignity too. As they bloom in spring, magnolias also share some “rebirth” analogies with the storied serviceberry tree, which you can read about here.
Fun fact: Magnolia blooms do not have petals and sepals like other flowers; instead, they are composed of “tepals,” which are something else entirely!
Roses have a host of different meanings depending on where you are geographically, historically and to what culture you belong. In classical Greek mythology, the common red rose is often referenced alongside Aphrodite and Adonis, who together symbolize beauty, romance, passion, love and everything else you might see in a Valentine’s Day card.
“And while fiery orange symbolizes enthusiasm and passion similar to the red rose, yellow roses are generally associated with simple, platonic friendship.”
But what about the other colors? Similar to the white flowers of the magnolia, white roses symbolize innocence and purity. Pink roses on the other hand, are said to represent gratitude, grace, admiration, and joy. And while fiery orange symbolizes enthusiasm and passion similar to the red rose, yellow roses are generally associated with simple, platonic friendship.
We should mention one more here: the rare black rose (which is actually just a very dark red). It tends to symbolize what you’d expect: death, sadness, mourning, etc… Needless to say, not everyone’s favorite addition to a peaceful perennial garden!
If you’ve wondered what the eye-catching annual sunflower (aka Helianthus) symbolizes (besides, of course, the sun), you’re not alone. One of the most common and oldest domesticated plants, sunflowers have been associated with the same spiritual ideas of rebirth and fertility that our bright, celestial sun always has been. But aside from the big fiery star that lights the earth, sunflowers also represent adoration, loyalty, and longevity, among other things.
It’s important to note that yellow itself is a very special color too; It’s the most luminous and eye-catching color there is, and generally radiates positive energy over all else. Associations with happiness, optimism, enlightenment, creativity and–of course–spring’s arrival and the sun, are great examples. And they all apply to the lovely, yellow sunflower too!
Lavender is a plant native to the “Old World” of Europe, Asia and Africa. Its culinary, medicinal and therapeutic benefits have been lauded since antiquity, and that popularity continues today. With a sweet, calming fragrance (ideal for essential oils), lavender has come to represent serenity, grace and royalty over time. While not quite as “symbolic” of specific themes as the previous examples, lavender’s effect on our psyche is often stronger due to the plant’s naturally therapeutic characteristics and unique color.
“While not quite as “symbolic” of specific themes as the previous examples, lavender’s effect on our psyche is often stronger due to the plant’s naturally therapeutic characteristics and unique color. ”
That unique color is possibly the most meaningful part of the lavender plant. Like all shades of purple, lavender (the color) is rare in nature and art (due to the high expense of making the paint, pre-digital age). That rarity has led to associations with power, nobility and even the supernatural. Purple is also the most powerful wavelength of the rainbow, so next time you’re grabbing some lavender from the garden to cook with, take a second to admire the hue and appreciate how it makes you feel. While you’re at it, do that with all your other flowers, too!
From the Greek word “hydria,” the name hydrangea means “water vessel”–a reference to the shape of the seed capsules, not the flowers. In Japan, where the greatest quantity and diversity of hydrangeas are found, pink hydrangeas have become associated with beating hearts and love. Elsewhere, we see examples of hydrangeas representing grace, serenity and–most commonly–abundance (due to the large, full flowers).
Most people don’t know that the color of a hydrangea’s flowers depends on the pH level of the soil it’s planted in; when the pH is acidic (below 7), the flowers turn bluish and become associated with empathy and apologies (like a blue, get well soon card). When the pH of your soil is more alkaline (above 7), the flowers turn more pink or purple and begin to associate with love and the “beating heart” mentioned above.
If you end up with the blue flowers, remember that blue itself can be calming and hopeful as well, with parallels to the sky and sea-bound to make your garden a great escape.
The meanings behind various flowers and flower colors are fascinating and diverse, but in the end, what they mean to you is what’s most important. The emotions you associate with a magnolia tree might have less to do with its historical significance and more to do with the big one your childhood home had in the backyard. While we suggest learning about the historical and cultural symbolism behind the plants in your garden, don’t hesitate to include something just because you like how it looks; sometimes having something beautiful to admire and reminisce about is meaningful enough.