TERESA SABANKAYA IS a gardener, a floral designer and owner of the Bonny Doon Garden Company in Santa Cruz, California. But in her heart of hearts, Sabankaya is a botanical linguist who wants us all to become conversant in the language of flowers.
Sometimes it’s hard to say what we really mean, most notably on occasions when we’re expected to be especially thoughtful and well-spoken. Hello, Valentine’s Day. Thankfully, Sabankaya wrote “The Posy Book: Garden-Inspired Bouquets That Tell a Story,” a beautiful love letter to the art of communicating with flowers.
The idea of floral symbolism has been around for a very long time but rose in popularity in 19th-century England, when romantic (and repressed) Victorians devised a sentiment-laden code cloaked in blossoms to articulate feelings and emotions they couldn’t otherwise bring themselves to declare out loud.
It’s so true. Flowers speak volumes when we’re at a loss for words: I love you. I miss you. I’m proud of you. I’m so sorry you’re not in my bubble. The tradition might be old-fashioned, but ever since gatherings were shuttered and life moved online, posy sales at Bonny Doon Garden Company (bonnydoongardenco.com) are way up. Now more than ever, we’re sending flowers when we can’t show up in person.
I asked Sabankaya whether she’s designed a “Pandemic Posy.” “No,” she says, laughing. “But I’ve got some ideas of what I might include — I just don’t know what I can get away with calling it.”
Incidentally, just as with matters of the heart, not all floral messages are sweetness and light. For the record, the “Fortitude” posy, carrying a message of “protection,” “strength” and “hang in there,” was a 2020 favorite with Sabankaya’s customers.
Along with a brief look into the storied history of the language of flowers around the world, “The Posy Book” presents 20 themed “posy recipes,” along with floral tips and encouragement to create your own floral message. And for that you can turn to the book’s “Modern Floral Dictionary.”
Sabankaya spent years researching, updating and expanding the traditional floral lexicon. “At first, I didn’t feel qualified to give a flower a meaning,” she muses. “But I got carried away with [the project] because I wanted to get carried away.” Passion and years of experience crafting heartfelt posies finally convinced her that flowers are a living language that evolves with time. Ever respectful of the traditional canon of coded florals, Sabankaya’s thoughtful additions are marked with an asterisk in the modern floral dictionary.
Now it’s your turn. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. “The Posy Book” is both inspiration and a botanical cheat sheet for devising your own floral messages to share with family, friends and loved ones. Let’s not forget essential workers, teachers and health-care providers.
“Posies make people feel cherished,” Sabankaya says. Your blossoms don’t have to come from a flower market or a fancy florist. Greens from the garden and seasonal blooms will do just fine. “Just be sure to include a sentiment tag,” she counsels. “It’s not really a posy if you don’t include a sentiment tag.”
I’ll go first. Walking around the garden, I pick tender snowdrops and crocus (hope), a few hellebore blossoms (a beautiful year ahead) and a fragrant sprig of daphne (desire to please). A collar of pine (loyalty), sage (strength) and juniper (protection) supports the fragile midwinter blooms. The posy might not last more than a day or two, but the sentiment certainly will.