The Secret Language of Flowers – their meaning, history and ‘Eye am She’
As part of Berrington’s celebration of the centenary of women receiving the vote, we have opened the new exhibition, ‘A Dress Fit for a King’ with artwork by Lorna J Brown ‘Eye am She’. Lorna J Brown draws inspiration from a number of elements of eighteenth-century culture. This includes the Georgian ‘Secret Language of Flowers’. We wanted to share with you some of the details of this forgotten language, and reveal the meaning behind it.
Lorna J Brown’s art piece, ‘Eye am She’ coincides with our new exhibition, ‘A Dress Fit for a King’. This exhibition is based on the life of Ann Bangham, wife of Berrington’s original owner, Thomas Harley. On the first floor of the mansion you will be able to see what we believe to be Ann’s original eighteenth-century court mantua dress. As well as this you can learn about the life of Ann and the Georgian culture that surrounded the lives of women. Drawing on this, ‘Eye am She’ depicts parts of this culture, namely the ‘Secret Language of Flowers’ and the Georgians ‘Lover’s Eye Miniatures’.
The ‘Secret Language of Flowers’ was a part of the eighteenth-century lifestyle that isn’t often focused on. They had a love of gardens, which is evident with events such as the rise of ‘Capability’ Brown’s designs, a rise in ‘Eye-catchers’ in the landscape and the development of roads. Part of this can also be seen with the increase in the ‘Secret Language of Flowers’.
Within this language, flowers had a number of different meanings. For example, Ivy was symbolic of friendship, as oppose to Lavender, which was symbolic of distrust. Often thought of as a Victorian interest for Britain, it was actually introduced to Britain in 1717 by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (English aristocrat, poet and letter writer), who discussed the Turkish version in letters sent back to England.
Lorna has used the ‘Secret Language of Flowers’ to focus on the life of Ann Bangham. She offers the viewer the chance to reflect on her experience as a mother and head of the family. She does this with her use of hollyhocks, which were symbolic of motherhood and family blossom throughout ‘Eye am She’.
Hollyhocks were popular in the eighteenth century and symbolic of fertility and fruitfulness. Lorna has designed the piece to have hollyhocks growing in abundance from the four poster bed in the centre of the room. As well as this the flowers also grow from all 4 corners of the room and up to the ceiling. This is done in reference to Ann’s 8 children, her fertility and many years of childbearing.
By relating back to this ‘Secret Language of Flowers’, Lorna has brought Berrington’s walled garden and pleasure grounds inside. In doing so she hints towards the important connections between the gardens, Georgian fashions and the life of Ann Bangham. From this we can see the ever increasing importance of our ‘Walled Garden and Pleasure Ground Restoration Project’.
This project aims to restore and reinstate the walled garden to how ‘Capability’ Brown intended it for Thomas and Ann Harley. We’re constantly finding connections between the walled garden, which is one of the final designs of ‘Capability’ Brown, and the stories that lie behind Berrington and the Georgians culture. We want to protect this element of Berrington’s past as it is in desperate need of conservation and care. This is only possible with the support of all of our visitors.
This has been a brief introduction into the ‘Secret Language of Flowers’ and an insight into Lorna J Brown’s ‘Eye am She’ at Berrington. To know the meaning behind the artwork is a head start, but seeing it for yourself will enable you to see the connections between Georgian culture, the life of women in the eighteenth-century and particularly the life of Ann Bangham at Berrington.