A Japanese Connection in the Italian Garden Pools

Chihuly at Biltmore was on display from May 17 to October 7, 2018.
Please enjoy this archived content.

Chihuly at Biltmore—the first art exhibition in Biltmore’s historic gardens and the first garden exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s works in North Carolina—showcases large-scale glass sculptures throughout the grounds of America’s Largest Home®.

Niijima Floats by artist Dale Chihuly as part of Chihuly at Biltmore

One of the must-see displays of this exciting exhibition in is the Italian Garden, where five different installations are set throughout its three pools, including Niijima Floats, named for the island of Niijima in Tokyo Bay, Japan.

Koi swimming in the Italian Garden pools

Coincidentally, this unique installation exists alongside another Japanese connection: the colorful koi that populate the Italian Garden pools. While we don’t know exactly when the koi were introduced to the pools, we do know that George Vanderbilt had a fascination with their nation of origin: Japan.

Invitation to Emperor of Japan’s birthday celebration, 1892

In fact, in 1892, George Vanderbilt and his cousin, Clarence Barker, toured countless temples and other cultural sites during their trip to Japan—a trip which begin with an invitation to attend the Emperor’s birthday celebration.

Pagoda at Horinji-Nara. Photo purchased by George Vanderbilt, 1892

Around the turn of the century, many Americans thought Japan and its culture were exotic and rooted in tradition, offering a blend of spirituality and aesthetic beauty. To George Vanderbilt, deeply interested in history, the arts, and collecting, the allure must have been irresistible.

Samurai armor from Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868); purchased by George Vanderbilt, 1892

Of course, antiques shops and art dealers were part of the itinerary as George Vanderbilt eventually shipped 32 cases of art and decorative objects back to America. Among his purchases were:

  • Satsuma ceramics, including a koro or ceremonial incense burner, for $85—a significant sum more than 125 years ago
  • Two suits of samurai armor along with spears and swords
  • Netsuke—miniature sculptures originally used as kimono toggles
  • Bronze sculptures
  • Lacquer boxes and sculptures
  • Varied screens and fans
  • Bamboo curtains
  • 1,000 festive paper lanterns

Visit now through October 7 to experience Chihuly at BiltmoreAfter strolling through the exhibition, we invite you to discover The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village to view the Samurai armor and other treasures George Vanderbilt collected during his travels as part of our The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad.

Take Flight Now with Vertical Vintages!

In 2018, Biltmore Wines was very excited to offer a rare opportunity exclusively to our Vanderbilt Wine Club® members: the chance to experience a true vertical tasting of our Vanderbilt Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. While the wines were available, Wine Club members could purchase this particular Pinot Noir in its 2012, 2013, and 2014 vintages!

What is a vertical flight and why is it so unusual?

Three glasses of red wine

Horizontal flights

Most wine flights are horizontal, meaning that you’re tasting several wines (often three or more) that are similar in nature (think “flight of geese” or “flight of stairs” and you’ll see how the name refers to a collection of similar things). This is a great way to learn more about wines in general and to discover interesting differences that you might not notice otherwise.

Vertical flights

What happens, then, when a flight goes vertical? That’s a very different type of tasting, and one that doesn’t happen every day.

Biltmore red wine being poured into a glass

For a vertical flight, you’ll be tasting three or more wines of the same varietal from the same maker in a series of different but close or sequential vintages. From varietal to vineyard to winemaker, the vintage is the only variable. Here are some of the things you can expect to experience:

  • Taste the obvious effects of how the wine matures over time
  • Note subtle differences made by the year’s weather in which the varietal was grown
  • Understand how aging affects the color, aromas, and flavors of the wine, and how it becomes more smooth as tannins and acidity decrease

Friends toasting with red wineHosting a vertical flight

A vertical flight is an exciting way to experience the terroir of a vineyard, the skill of the winemaker, and the characteristics of the varietal over time. It’s also a fun way for a small group of friends to learn more about a particular varietal together, so consider hosting a vertical tasting in one of two ways:

Youngest to oldest (most common vertical flight tasting style):

  • Discover the evolution of aging in a natural progression
  • Experience the varietal from a simpler, youngerphase to a more mature and complex one

Oldest to youngest (more unusual; offers different insights): 

  • Learn how decreasing levels of alcohol, acidity, and tannins in more mature wines affect your tasting experience
  • Keep your palate fresher longer by tasting younger wines last

Glasses of red wineJoin the club!

Ready to enjoy exclusive offers available only to our Vanderbilt Wine Club® members, such as receiving three hand-selected vintages each season, a dedicated section of Biltmore’s Winery, and members-only events? Become a Wine Club member today, or give someone special a gift membership!

Mr. William A.V. Cecil

William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, owner of The Biltmore Company, died on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 at his home in Asheville. He was 89 years old.

William A.V. Cecil was the youngest son of Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil, and the grandson of George W. Vanderbilt, who built Biltmore House in the 1890s as the largest privately owned home in America.

Mr. Cecil was born August 17, 1928 at his family home in Asheville. Educated in England and Switzerland, he served in the British Navy near the end of World War II. After the war, he attended Harvard University and graduated in 1952. He pursued a career in finance, where he served as a representative of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, and later as an officer with Chase’s international department based in Washington, D.C.

In 1957, he married Mary “Mimi” Ryan, a lawyer with the Wall Street firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. In 1960, the Cecils moved to Asheville with the intention of preserving Biltmore by growing tourism to the region.

“We don’t preserve Biltmore to make a profit. We make a profit to preserve Biltmore,” Mr. Cecil was known to say. His vision for the estate extended beyond its gates to encompass North Carolina and the country, and he worked the next 35 years to position Biltmore as a unique national treasure and Asheville as a “must-see” destination.

Although his parents opened Biltmore House to the public in 1930, it was not a source of income for the estate. After 30 years, revenues from visiting guests had produced a profit only one time. The book Lady on the Hill details the tremendous challenges Mr. Cecil faced in restoring Biltmore to its Vanderbilt-era glory.

Mr. Cecil portrait“There was this negativism that it can’t be done,” Mr. Cecil said. “If you ever want me to do something, just say ‘It can’t be done.’ Everyone told me it couldn’t be done, so I just stuck my feet in it and I said, ‘We’ll see about that.’ And that is what motivated me.”

After years of dedication and hard work—including everything from writing marketing copy to taking photographs for estate brochures—Mr. Cecil announced that Biltmore had made a profit of $16.34 in 1969. In the following decades, his leadership propelled restorations to Biltmore House, renovations across the estate, and unparalleled growth for The Biltmore Company based on his unique business philosophy of a profitable private enterprise supporting preservation.

He was a leader in envisioning successful winemaking in North Carolina, planting vineyards, hiring a French winemaker, and opening the Biltmore Winery in 1985 when the idea of a successful North Carolina winery was unimaginable. Today, Biltmore Winery distributes wines across the country and is the most-visited winery in the nation.

His involvement in Biltmore’s preservation led him to found and serve as the board chairman of the Historic House Association of America, which later merged with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 1963, his dedication to Biltmore’s preservation was rewarded when the estate was recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Mr. Cecil also received the National Trust Preservation Award in 1995 for “his unique vision and achievement in the restoration and economically viable administration of the Biltmore Estate.”

Mr. Cecil considered tourism, preservation, and heritage as natural partners, and was active in a number of travel and tourism organizations.  He served as the 1972 president of the Southern Highlands Attractions Association, president of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, and president of the North Carolina Travel Council. In 1974, he was awarded the Charles J. Parker Travel Award. He was also included in “The North Carolina Century, Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900–2000.”

In addition, he served on the board of directors for the Public Service Natural Gas Company, Carolina Motor Club, and the board of the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry.

Mr. Cecil retired from the company’s day-to-day operations in 1995 after nurturing his family business into a leading economic contributor to Asheville. The company now encompasses travel and tourism, hospitality, agriculture, wine, and licensed products, and is one of the area’s largest employers.

In an afterword to Lady on the Hill, Mr. Cecil wrote:
“I hope Biltmore Estate will continue to give its guests one of America’s most gratifying cultural and aesthetic experiences for years to come. I also hope that the commitment to preserving the great natural beauty that graces Biltmore is held sacred. The estate has given my family great personal and professional satisfaction over the years, and it has been my pleasure and my honor to share her. Long may the Lady on the Hill stand as a symbol of vision, inspiration, and imagination.”

Mr. Cecil is survived by his wife, Mary “Mimi” Ryan Cecil; his son, William A.V. “Bill” Cecil, Jr., and daughter-in-law Virginia “Ginger” Cecil; his daughter, Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering, son-in-law George “Chuck” Pickering and brother George H.V. Cecil; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Meet the New Face of the Biltmore Floral Team

With the retirement of Cathy Barnhardt, Biltmore’s Floral Displays Manager for 40 years—since the first Christmas at Biltmore Daytime Celebration—many were left wondering: Who will fill these festive shoes?

Enter Lizzie Borchers. A Texas native, Lizzie studied floriculture at Texas A&M University with a dream of working at Biltmore.

“I actually began e-mailing the company as a freshman to show my interest,” she laughs.

After working at Dr. Delphinium Designs & Events, one of the largest florist shop in Texas (and that’s saying something!), Lizzie joined Biltmore in 2014 as the Lodging & Events Floral Manager.

The Inn’s Lobby at Christmas, decorated by Lizzie’s team in 2015And when Cathy announced her retirement earlier this year, Lizzie felt confident in fulfilling the role.

Lizzie was officially promoted July 1, and then she spent two months with Cathy, trying to soak up the knowledge gained from her four decades of experience.

“Cathy had never had to train anyone for her position before,” says Lizzie, “which resulted in a lot of really long conversations.”

One thing Lizzie couldn’t be trained on, however, is coordinating our brand new must-see holiday display of shimmering lights and décor at Antler Hill Village & Winery.

Antler Hill Village Christmas lights in storageAs dusk falls, the village is illuminated with almost 4,000 strands of twinkling lights. Pathways are lit with 100 lanterns hanging from poles of estate-harvested bamboo. More than 65 shrubs are decorated with nearly 200 sparkling stars, snowflakes, and spheres.

“With this much illumination, the village will be viewable from space,” Lizzie says.

Inside the Winery’s Tasting Room, more than 7,000 gold and glittery globe-shaped ornaments—reminiscent of champagne bubbles—hang from the ceiling.

Lizzie with ornaments for the Tasting Room“I think what I’m most impressed with in my new position so far is our floral team’s ownership of their individual design areas—especially considering the large size and scope of our work,” says Lizzie. “They really do go above and beyond to deliver an experience similar to what guests of the Vanderbilts may have enjoyed more than 100 years ago.”

Images
Feature: Lizzie Borchers, Floral Displays Manager
First image: The Inn’s Lobby at Christmas, decorated by Lizzie’s team in 2015
Second image: Antler Hill Village Christmas lights in storage
Third image: Lizzie with ornaments for the Tasting Room

Literary Guests of Biltmore House

While we aren’t sure exactly when they met, George Vanderbilt and author Edith Wharton likely knew each other most of their lives. Both were born into New York society in 1862 and both moved in the same social circles.

Thanks to the Biltmore House guest book, we know that Wharton visited the estate at least twice: once in November 1902 and again around Christmas 1905.

On December 26, 1905, she wrote from Biltmore to her friend Sara Norton, describing the Vanderbilts’ gracious hospitality:

“Yesterday we had a big Xmas fete for the 350 people on the estate – a tree 30 ft. high, Punch & Judy, conjuror, presents & “refreshments.” It would have interested you, it was done so well & sympathetically, each person’s wants being thought of, from mother to last baby.”
From The Letters of Edith Wharton

During this visit, she signed a copy of her recently completed novel, The House of Mirth:
“To George Vanderbilt from Edith Wharton, Biltmore House, Christmas 1905.”

The House of Mirth later became entry #2,163 in George’s “Books I Have Read” journal series.

Excerpt from In the Biltmore archives, there are a handful of letters from Wharton to George. While many of the letters discuss Wharton subletting the Vanderbilts’ apartment on the Left Bank in Paris from 1907 to 1910, one of them stands out from the rest.

On March 25, 1913, Wharton wrote George regarding a 70th birthday gift for Henry James, author of The Portrait of a Lady. She was sending word of a circular and a collection of money for James to purchase whatever gift he wanted.

But a gift was never purchased. James found out about the collection prematurely and refused it.

Coincidentally, James, who was also friend of George Vanderbilt’s, stayed at Biltmore—in the winter of 1905, around the same time as Wharton.

Images
Feature image: Edith Wharton at her home, The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, 1905
Second image: George Vanderbilt’s “Books I Have Read” journal opened to entry #2,163:
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

A Romantic Legacy

William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, the younger son of Cornelia and John F. A. Cecil, was born at Biltmore in 1928. He attended schools in England and Switzerland before serving in the British Navy. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, William worked as a banker in the international department of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City.

St. Vincent Ferrer's Roman Catholic Church, NYC

It was there that he met his future wife Mary “Mimi” Lee Ryan, daughter of textile manufacturer John J. Ryan, Jr., and granddaughter of prominent New York banker, lawyer, and builder James T. Lee. Mimi received her undergraduate degree from Vassar College and her law degree from the University of Michigan. Prior to her marriage, she was an attorney with the Manhattan firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham, and Taft.

A romantic beginning

The Cecils married on October 5, 1957, at St. Vincent Ferrer’s Roman Catholic Church in New York City. The bride wore a gown of white satin with a fitted bodice and a full skirt forming a cathedral train. She carried a lush bouquet of white roses, stephanotis, and English ivy. Her veil was a family heirloom originally worn in 1903 by her maternal grandmother, Margaret Merritt Lee, and also worn by her first cousin, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, at her 1953 wedding to future U.S. President John F. Kennedy. After the ceremony, a reception was held at the elegant River Club in the city.

William and Mary Ryan Cecil with bridesmaids

In 1959, the Cecils moved to Asheville, North Carolina to manage Biltmore, the grand country estate created by Mr. Cecil’s grandfather George Vanderbilt. Their two children grew up in the family business whose mission is preserving Biltmore as a privately owned, profitable working estate. Today, William Cecil, Jr. serves as Biltmore’s CEO and Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering is president of the Family Office.

The Biltmore Legacy

Today, estate guests have an opportunity to visit The Biltmore Legacy located in Antler Hill Village and view our Fashionable Romance exhibition featuring family wedding history and heirlooms, including Mrs. Cecil’s beautiful wedding gown, subsequently worn by her daughter-in-law Virginia Cecil and her daughter Dini Pickering.

William and Mary Ryan Cecil cut their wedding cake

The Lee Family Veil is also displayed in the exhibition along with a stunning recreation of the gown worn by Mr. Cecil’s mother Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her original satin slippers. This outstanding collection of wedding-related fashion offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the fascinating family that has preserved Biltmore for generations to come.

Featured image: Newlyweds William and Mary Ryan Cecil 

Top right: The service at St. Vincent Ferrer’s Roman Catholic Church in New York City

Middle left: William and Mary Ryan Cecil with bride’s attendants

Bottom right: The Cecils cut their wedding cake at the reception

Centennial Celebrations: A Landmark, A Legacy

This year, we join the National Park Service in celebrating its centennial anniversary.Sustainable Logging on Biltmore Estate

With an emphasis on strict preservation, the National Park Service focuses on protecting natural and cultural resources “unimpaired for future generations,” including many historic properties that illustrate the nation’s heritage. Biltmore has been recognized as a designated National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service since 1963.

The Birthplace of Forestry

While Biltmore House as a structure was certainly ahead of its time and holds within its walls a vast collection of art and antiques, the landmark designation is not actually for the house, but for the estate itself as the birthplace of forestry

The original description of the estate’s National Historic Landmark designation recognizes Biltmore forest manager Gifford Pinchot, who later served as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, for his management plan that improved the forest and returned a profit to the Vanderbilts. The plan was the first of its kind and served as a national model.

The description also recognizes Dr. Carl A. Schenck, Pinchot’s successor, for establishing the Biltmore Forest School, also the first of its kind. In its 15 years of existence, the school graduated more than 300 of the nation’s first professionally-trained foresters.

Dr. Carl Schenck with Biltmore Forest School students, 1900

A National Forest is Born

The nearly 87,000 acres of the estate that became Pisgah National Forest are also mentioned in the designation description. After George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, his widow, Edith Vanderbilt, sold the land to the federal government for just under $5 per acre. However, Pisgah Forest wasn’t established as a National Forest until 1916—making this year its centennial anniversary as well.

Within Pisgah National Forest is the Cradle of Forestry, a National Historic Site located on the grounds of Biltmore Forest School’s Pink Beds campus, where classes were held during the summer. The site, set aside to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation and the lasting contributions of George Vanderbilt and his forest managers, spans about 6,500 acres of former estate property.

In a public ceremony in 1920, Pisgah National Forest was dedicated to the memory of George Vanderbilt, noting the land as “the earliest example of forestry on a large scale on private lands in America.” The ceremony was attended by Edith and daughter Cornelia Vanderbilt as well as N.C. Governor Locke Craig and George S. Powell, secretary of the Appalachian Park Association. 

Pisgah National Forest Dedication Ceremony, 1920

The Legacy Continues

From the very beginning, Pinchot as well as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstedwho convinced George Vanderbilt to adopt forestry as his primary business, were determined to make Biltmore a model of forestry for the country.

Reflecting back on the beginning of his employment, Pinchot later wrote: “Biltmore could be made to prove what America did not yet understand, that trees could be cut and the forest preserved at one and the same. I was eager, confident, and happy as a clam at high tide.”*

Pinchot’s prediction was correct and his hope for Biltmore’s significant role was fulfilled.

In 2005, Biltmore successfully expanded its National Historic Landmark designation to include themes of architecture, landscape architecture, and social history, now encompassing the contributions of architect Richard Morris Hunt, Olmsted, estate superintendent Chauncey Beadle, and the significance of Biltmore Dairy.

Today, Biltmore continues to be managed by its original guiding principles. With the centennials of the National Park Service and Pisgah National Forest upon us, there has never been a better time to enjoy the estate’s 8,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty. Join us for some of the great outdoor activities Biltmore has to offer. We have much to celebrate.

Images
Feature: Biltmore Forest School students in the woods, 1900**
Top Right: Logging on the estate, late 1800s-early 1900s
Left: Carl A. Schenck with Biltmore Forest School students, 1900**
Right: Pisgah National Forest dedication ceremony, 1920

*Source: Pinchot, Gifford. Breaking New Ground. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1947.

**Image courtesy of National Forests of North Carolina Historic Photographs, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, Asheville, NC. 

Best-kept secrets: Biltmore’s alley gardens

With acres of vivid colors and lush plantings, the gardens of Biltmore are so breathtaking that some guests never venture inside the Conservatory during the summer months. According to Jordana Chalnick, Conservatory Horticulturist, however, those who stay outside are missing out on some very special displays in the “back alleys” of the Conservatory.

A working conservatory

“Biltmore’s Conservatory was originally designed to be a functional workspace for growing and nurturing plants as well as an indoor garden space for guests,” said Jordana. “We continue to use it for both purposes today, and we also create intriguing displays that draw visitors through the Conservatory and into the alleys behind it.”

A shady spot in one of the Conservatory alley gardens

Jordana has been with Biltmore since 2006, putting her horticulture degree to use first in the Azalea Garden and then in the Conservatory. She became Conservatory Horticulturalist in 2013 and has been instrumental in creating the displays that make the Conservatory a must-see during any Biltmore visit.

“In the mid-1990s, there were just a few hanging baskets and some of the larger trees in the alleys,” Jordana said. “Gradually, the staff began lining the alley walls with plants and then over the years adding under-plantings to the larger pots. The alleys have definitely evolved from what they were initially to the more designed and elaborate displays we do today.”

Heating up and keeping cool

Jordana noted that there are actually two alleys—one between the cool room and the sitting room and one between the hot room and the sitting room.

This year, the cool alley, which was designed by Conservatory Gardener Kathryn Marsh, features fragrant plants that create a shady respite from the sun during the hot summer months. Having all the different fragrances makes it a nice space in which to take break and relax for a while.

The hot alley features water plants using dwarf versions of many of the species in the Italian Garden.

A blue pot with water plants

“I’ve always liked the idea of displaying the water plants in a way that guests can have closer access to them than they do in the Italian pools,” Jordana said. “I took lots of inspiration from pictures of gardens in Bali and Thailand where they incorporate water plants seamlessly into the landscape as opposed to having a special area for them.”

Alley installation

As far as installing the alleys, the Conservatory crew does as much as possible ahead of time. They received most of the cool alley’s fragrant plants from Florida in March, and the dwarf lotus plants for the hot alley were stored in the Italian Garden pools until early June.

Fiery yellow and red blooms

“We already have a general idea of which plants will go in which alley, so we will generally load up a truck load for one alley, haul it up and unload it,” said Jordana. “We have one reserve worker who helps us and we definitely get a lot of help from everyone in Historic Gardens, since our crew is pretty small and installing the alleys is a huge project.”

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Pink hibiscus in the cool alley behind the Conservatory

Now that the alley plantings are installed, the Conservatory crew will maintain them throughout the summer, watering, grooming and deadheading as needed. The alleys will stay in until around mid-September when the plants need to start transitioning back to the greenhouses for winter.

“I love my job,” Jordana said, “because I get to use my creativity in designing displays as well as using all of my horticultural knowledge to keep plants happy and healthy.”

Springtime Project: Tussie Mussie

Learn how to create your own tussie mussie, inspired by fashions and the language of flowers during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901). During this era, flowers were considered a more modest adornment than jewelry for a young woman. A tussie mussie was sometimes tied with a ribbon, but could also be carried in a cone-shaped, decorative silver holder. They’re still used today for some bridesmaid bouquets.

Creating a Tussie Mussie

1. Start with the bushiest flowers first and add in additional flowers in a crisscross pattern. Rotate arrangement with each new flower added. 

2. Vary the height of each flower and remove excess greenery along the stems. Cut long stems for a petite and feminine look. 

3. Measure ribbon at 18-24 inches, cut and wrap around base. Tie a traditional bow and cut tails by folding the ends of each ribbon in half.

4. Find the perfect spot to display your arrangement! Whether used at a placesetting, or as an accessory, these simple arrangements are a beautiful way to incorporate fresh spring flowers into your decor.

Tussie Mussies and the Victorian Language of Flowers

When is a flower more than just a flower? When it’s a hidden message of strong emotion.  In Victorian times, social customs dictated discretion above all else, so declarations of love or other strong feelings had to be coded. One way to do so was through floriography or the language of flowers.

The concept wasn’t invented in the 19th century. In ancient Greece, flowers were assigned meaning and the symbolism carried forth into the harems of Turkey. The Elizabethans picked up on the practice, using the names of flowers in poetry to signify unutterable thought. But it was the Victorians who fully embraced the language of flowers, to the extent that numerous dictionaries explaining the language were published.

During Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), it became fashionable to carry a small nosegay or tussie mussie as an accessory: a flower was considered a more modest adornment than jewelry for a young woman. A tussie mussie was sometimes tied with a ribbon, but could also be carried in a cone-shaped, decorative silver holder, still used today for some bridesmaid bouquets. It wasn’t just women who donned flowers, though. Men took to wearing flowers in the buttonholes of everyday coats and jackets, not just for special occasions.

To send a message in the language of flowers, a bouquet or boutonniere would be exchanged. A combination of flower, foliage, or herbs could spell out a whole sentiment. Bouquets expressed not just love, but also friendship or familial connection.

The American cowslip was the flower of divine beauty, while the acacia was a flower of friendship. Roses were a complicated matter. While today a rose is all about romance, in Victorian times there were nuances to it. Red roses unmistakably meant romantic love, but a white rose, for example, meant “I am worthy of you.”

But there were also flowers that had less-than-cheerful meanings, such as ridicule, rebuff, coolness, and coquetry. The yew, for example, was the flower of sorrow. An almond flower would not have been a welcome gift: it meant stupidity and indiscretion. Messages could be customized. If the leaves were left on a flower, for example, the message was in the affirmative; if they were taken off, an opposite meaning was intended. Even the manner in which a bouquet was received had meaning: a right-handed exchange was a yes; a left-handed one, a no.

Definitions of flower meanings weren’t always consistent. One flower whose meaning never varied, though, was the stephanotis, the flower of “wedded bliss.” The flower became a popular feature of wedding bouquets and remains so today.