- Nowadays, flowers play an important role in social behaviour, and are commercially available all year; they are gifts expressing affection, gratitude, celebration, congratulation, mourning, or apology, and are used as decoration at both personal and public events. *Weddings and *funerals would be inconceivable without them.The use of flowers in medieval and Tudor times is well documented, especially in courtly circles, where fashionable men and women wore chaplets of leaves and flowers on their heads (a custom suriving in the modern bridal wreath, and in daisy chains). Scented flowers or petals were strewn on floors, together with herbs and rushes, and carried in processions; strewing was a feature at both weddings and funerals. Churches were garlanded with fresh greenery and flowers at summer festivals, as with * evergreens at other seasons, and clergy sometimes wore wreaths - in 1405 the Bishop of London wore a chaplet of red roses in St Paul's for the feast of that saint (Goody, 1993: 155).The link between flowers and religious ceremonies was broken at the Reformation. From the 16th to the mid-19th centuries there were no flowers in churches, and mourners carried *rosemary or *rue, not blossoms, at funerals. More research is needed to show when, and by what stages, they returned; in 1884 one writer referred to a growing 'pretty custom of sending wreaths for the coffins of deceased friends', encouraged by the example of Queen Victoria and the Royal Family (Vickery, 1995: 144-5). Probably there were local variations; Charlotte Burne said that in north Shropshire it had long been customary to put roses and wallflowers inside the coffin, but that laying wreaths visibly on top of it, and then on the grave, had only begun in the 1870s (Burne, 1883: 299). Writing of Cheshire,Fletcher Moss is even more precise: 'In my memory it was considered heathenish to put flowers on graves or in them, and I believe it was on my father's grave, in December 1867, that the Rector of Didsbury first consented to having plants or flowers planted on a grave' (Moss, 1898: 18-19).Towards the end of the Victorian period, 'floral tributes' in fancy shapes were introduced, and are still made; some are symbolic, such as a broken column or the gates of Heaven, but most represent things associated with the deceased, from a teddy bear to a racing car, or spell a name. Nowadays, mourners sometimes place an individual flower on the coffin during the funeral service. It is common to put flowers on graves on the anniversary of death, and at *Christmas, *Mother-ing Sunday, or *Easter; to plant a rose bush in the crematorium grounds; and to leave bouquets as *memorials at the sites of fatal accidents or murders.The traditional festivals of spring and summer generally involve greenery and flowers; the entries for *May Day, *maypoles, *Abbotsbury Garland, *Castleton Garland, *rushbearing, and *well-dressing describe some of the ways they are used, and many other references will be found throughout this book. Nowadays the blossoms are mostly garden grown, but in earlier times gathering them in woods and fields was itself part of the fun.Until the Second World War, wild flowers featured largely in the *display customs of country children, notably the *May garlands, and in their games, for example making *cow-slip balls, *daisy chains, *dandelion clocks - indeed, as a (male) correspondent wrote to N&Q in 1901:We made chains of daisies, buttercups, 'dandies', daffadowndillies, haws, cankers, crab-apples, 'slaws', cob-nuts, and many other things. We decorated pet lambs and each other with these chains, which were often combinations of flowers, stalks, and berries. Buttercups and daisies were the favourites, dandelions being shunned somewhat ... (N&Q 9s:8 (1901), 70)However, many wild flowers were thought to cause bad luck, sickness, or death if they were brought indoors, and children were discouraged from picking them; a survey organized by Roy Vickery in 1982-4 found that some 70 species had this reputation. There is also a widespread modern taboo on having red and white flowers together in a vase without any of another colour, especially in a hospital; it is said to be an omen of death.■ Vickery, 1995 and 1985; Tony Walter, Folklore 107 (1996), 106-7. For an international perspective, see Goody, 1993.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.