One Book, One County finale speaker explains floral messages

By Lori Hansen • Last Updated 10:11 am on Friday, October 18, 2013


GREENVILLE — Though “flowers speak a language without using words” Jeanne Hawkins, an expert on the language of flowers, used the eloquence of words as guest speaker at the closing event for the year-long One Book, One County presentation Thursday night.

Dressed in Victorian garb, Hawkins, a Rockford native, used her knowledge of plants, herbs and flowers to address a crowd of nearly 120 at the Montcalm Community College Stanley and Blanche Ash Technology and Learning Center, most who had read the One Book, One County selection “The Language of Flowers,” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

“Our goal is not only to get people to read a book, but to get together and talk about it and share it,” said Maureen Burns, who along with Carole Cole, organized the ninth annual One Book, One County program. “I couldn’t think of a more perfect person than Jeanne to do our final program.”

Guests, many from some of the 25 book clubs in the county, were served a jasmine flower petal tea, flower petal chocolate bark and lavender cookies as Hawkins explained, with smart wit, the various messages conveyed by the flowers in a tussy mussy.

“There was so much more said by the things that were used in the bouquets, the colors and the flowers,” said Mary Bentley of Belding. “I didn’t know flower petals could be used in food, either.”

Diffenbaugh’s main character, Victoria Jones uses the Victorian language of flowers as a way to communicate with blossoms and also exposes the world of foster care, a relevant problem here in Montcalm County as well, Burns said.

“What I found very fascinating about this one was the number of different ways flowers can speak” said Kathy O’Donald of Greenville, who as a former school teacher saw children coming through the foster care system. “It also emphasized the issue of foster care and made it more visible.”

Hawkins explained the history of floral messages, which originated in India.

“No young lady in England would go around without her book on flowers and their definitions,” Hawkins said. “If she were to receive a bouquet from a young man, she would immediately look to see what the secret message was.”

The use of plants for medicinal purposes slowly evolved to more ornamental use, and way to convey a secret love letter.

“In the Victorian era, flowers were more important than jewelry,” Hawkins explained. “Proper young ladies were never without a chaperone, and yet couples were able to convey their love through flowers.”

Beth O’Grady of Hubbardston was one of those who also attended last night’s program, but also has participated each year in the One Book, One County program.

“I think this was one of the best, not only the book, but the programs that went along with it for the entire year,” said O’Grady. “It was fun learning about the floral language, but the book also tackled the seriousness of foster care.”

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