Imagine Me and You is a sweetly inoffensive romantic comedy about two women, Rachel and Luce, who overcome all odds (a straight man named Heck, a straight man named Coop) to fall in love and live happily ever after together. And you know what? I like it! It’s a cute movie where the lesbians don’t spend all their time quietly yearning for each other or walking into the sea or whatever. Never seen it? Rachel (played by Piper Perabo with a British accent, innit) has curly hair and goes to work approximately once every six months; Luce (played by Lena Headey) is a lesbian florist who is gay. We know Luce is a lesbian because she has an office dripping in beaded curtains, wears asymmetrical cardigans, and leaves a four-person dinner party to sit on the roof in the rain by herself. At one point, Luce wears a navy blazer layered over a chenille V-neck sweater, as if the film’s costume designer was like “Lesbians? I think I saw a lesbian in the back of a Delia’s catalog once!” Anyway, Rachel is married to a man named Heck, but then she falls in love with Luce, and then they live happily ever after.
I remember watching Imagine Me and You shortly after I came out, probably because I saw it on one of those sad lists of “The Top Lesbian Movies For Lesbians That Aren’t, Like, GOOD, But They’re Good LESBIAN Movies, And Also Carol Is Number One On The List But Every Other Movie Is Kind Of For Lesbians Only”. But I like this movie! It’s cute, and Giles is in it, and it features a scene where two lesbians fall in love at a romantic, dimly lit elementary school presentation. The only really BAD thing about it is that it ends with a straight man staring directly into the camera and laughing, as if to say, “Can you believe this lesbian movie ends with ME getting a happy ending? My name is Heck!”
Also, I don’t know where to put this, but it needs to be said: Luce’s flower shop is named “Flowered Up”. What?? That’s not a thing people say! What is that a pun on?!
Anyway, there’s a lot of talk in the film about what different flowers mean, as Luce is repeatedly confronted by emotionally unstable customers demanding the perfect flowers for very specific occasions. We learn that red roses mean love and fidelity, azaleas symbolize “may you achieve financial security,” and, crucially, lilies mean “I dare you to love me”. I was intrigued. Why do flowers have meanings? What are their meanings? Could I make my own bouquet and send it to somebody? Is this something I could do from the safety of my own home, because there is still a slow-burning apocalypse going on outside? Turns out the answer to all of these questions was yes! I was all flowered up and ready to go.
Lez Trying It
First, I ran through a flowery field, screaming at the flowers. Their mysteries would soon be known to me!!! I was feeling pretty cocky about it. Then I sat down and stared at a blank Google Doc for an hour. Turns out, I didn’t know shit about flowers, and no one seemed to like it when I called them “fancy grass”. It was time to make like the Great Mouse Detective and do some research.
My first question was, why and how do flowers have meanings? Isn’t the meaning of any flower “I like you enough to murder a non-sentient being for you”? Actually, although many cultures assigned their own meanings to plants and flowers (including the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Chinese), true flower symbolism as we know it today first rose to prominence during the Victorian era. Victorians mastered the art of passive-aggressiveness by assigning specific meanings to not only each flower, but also every color of each flower, meaning that a yellow rose could have a much different meaning than a red one. Giving flowers meanings allowed the Victorians to say things to each other they didn’t dare speak aloud (horny!), and books that defined the “language of flowers” were commonplace in Victorian homes, presumably because John Grisham hadn’t been born yet.
In addition to assigning each flower a meaning, the Victorians also went one step beyond: the physical positions of flowers (i.e., whether they were held in the left or right hand or placed upside down or right side up) were also given specific meanings by the Victorians. Many of the flowers that were given meanings were those that couldn’t be easily purchased at the florist, since gathering and arranging the flowers yourself was apparently part of the fun, presumably because John Grisham hadn’t been born yet.
At this point, my brain was starting to veer into Da Vinci Code territory. I was beginning to obsess over every flower I had ever been given in my life. When my parents gave me red roses for my college graduation, did they know that they meant “I love you”, or were they too ignorant to know which flowers meant “Congratulations on successfully completing your geology major”? My ex used to give me bouquets of pink stargazer lilies because she said they were her favorite, but those flowers symbolize prosperity and abundance. Was she trying to tell me to go on Shark Tank? Is that why we broke up???
To make things even more complicated, there are a ton of different meanings for flowers. Some of these meanings have changed over time, and some of them vary between different sources. I decided to narrow my focus in order to make my own bouquet. I would assemble a bouquet to send to my two younger sisters, Diane and Jess, with a very specific message, and then I’d see if they could decipher it. For some reason, I thought there would be an online florist site where I could build my hideous bouquet, but there was not, and anything I found even remotely close to that was, like, $85. So here’s the bouquet I built, along with the meaning of each flower in it:
Aster: Sisterhood. (We are sisters.)
Iris: Irises have a lot of different meanings, but two of them are good news (i.e., good news! Here is a symbolic bouquet for you!) and “pleasant surprise”, often referring to the birth of a child (Diane has a one-year-old son). Works for me!
Tansy: I declare war on you!!! (I couldn’t resist. There’s something very charming about declaring war with a flower. Also, we are sisters.)
Yellow carnations: Disdain. (If I am going to war with someone, chances are I disdain them.)
Magnolia: Love of nature. (I will fight you in the woods.)
I had come up with the perfect bouquet. It looked beautiful and had a clear meaning: “Good news, sister! I am declaring war on you. We will fight outside.” This made a lot of sense to me. I sent my sisters a mock-up of my bouquet (read: an email with 5 loose images of flowers) and asked them what they thought it meant.
Diane was confused by this TOTALLY NORMAL request for information. She said, “This is a sweet bouquet that reminds me of My Best Friend’s Wedding. The vibe it gives me is, there’s a wedding between a man and a woman and I’m a random person in the wedding and the bride sent me this bouquet as a thank you.” Before I could say anything else, or perhaps ask why a bride would give someone else a bouquet on her wedding day, she said, “I’m going to go watch The Crown.” Fair enough!
Jess was a little more forthcoming with her interpretation, although she also didn’t really understand what I meant by “the meaning of flowers”. She said the magnolia reminded her of a debutante ball, “like the one in The OC where Jimmy Cooper punches another dad,” and that the yellow carnations looked like they belonged “in a movie when the character forgets to bring something for their prom date so they have to pick weeds from the driveway and pretend that they are from the florist.” (She also said “what in carnation?”, in case you were wondering if my love of bad puns was genetic.) Overall, she called the bouquet chaotic (“bou-chaotic”) and said “if I were to put all of this together, it seems like something the prom queen would receive on stage after her prom king boyfriend died.”
My flower experiment was a failure. Now I was going to have to send my sisters a strongly worded letter announcing my intentions to fight them, which was much less elegant than a bouquet. What would Luce do? Probably yell at a soccer player. I laced up my yelling shoes and headed off to the local elementary school.
The language of flowers is interesting. Will I ever use it again? Maybe. I can totally see myself sending a bouquet of snapdragons (deception) to a special enemy, or gifting a friend some lavender (distrust) and then frantically texting them “I GOT YOU LAVENDER FOR ITS RELAXING PROPERTIES!!! I TRUST YOU!!!!” But in this never-ending pandemic, there’s something seductive about old-fashioned means of communication. A handwritten letter, a deliberately designed bouquet, a Western Union telegram: they all offer that personal touch you can’t get over Zoom. There is also something very queer about sending a subtext-laden message in a bouquet, which I suppose is why it makes sense for flowers to be so prominently featured in a movie like Imagine Me and You.
I highly recommend learning more about the meanings of flowers. It was absolutely the best thing I’ve done for this column, since reading is easier than sword fighting and learning is more delicious than creamed spinach. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get flowered up. I need to fight my sisters in the woods!!
(Thank you to Audrey Burges and Xu Mason for their help in teaching me about the meaning of flowers!)
This brought me true joy.
I love this movie! Especially the part where Rachel (I think) is running over all of the cars.
My mom was a teacher at an agricultural college for decades, mostly teaching floristry. She taught me that most flowers have about 3 million meanings depending on who you ask and who’s doing the marketing. She also taught me that lillies have a long history as a funeral flower, because of the strong scent that could overpower strong smells (i.e. decomp smells pre-refregeration).
Tansy was used to kill intestinal parasites and to induce abortions. It can also make you sick if you take to much. So that could be a very different message to send to someone. Very useful for our dystopian future: smuggling in abortifacients disguised as a bouquet under the watchful eyes of the patriarchy.
Also: I really enjoyed this article! Thanks Allie!
This made me laugh. Please do D.E.B.S next, being a spy or super villain has to be easier than being possessed by a faceless ghost.
So what I’m hearing is that the Victorians were flagging, but with flowers. Queer culture icons right there.
This was my first thought also
Surely it would be a great success if someone were to start a flower delivery service where you type into a comment box, and they courier a custom bouquet based on your message to your s-o/friend/enemy/frenemy/bellicose sister/etc.
Love this! As a queer florist, it is my life’s work to make bouquets using flower language even if most of my (straight) clients don’t get it. My most frequent/favorite request though will always be “something that won’t hurt the cat”
Hi, we are thinking of you and we have beautiful flowers for you and we have the best flower delivery for you that meets our high standards and ensures that your bouquet will look as beautiful as online.