A Note on Sources, Including Kate Greenaway

Below is an annotated list of the reference works I most often consulted when looking for botanical, historical, literary, symbolic, and mythological information about various flowers.

A Word about Kate Greenaway.  Of the many many many versions of the “Victorian Language of Flowers” available, I chose to use that published by Kate Greenaway in 1884.  Greenaway was a close personal friend of Woolf’s dear friend, Violet Dickinson.  Excerpts from their correspondence from 1894-1901 contained in the tribute volume Kate Greenaway by Marion Harry Spielmann and George Somes Layard  (1905) are available on-line through project Gutenberg, including this charming sketch of Greenaway cooling off with a water-can in the hot summer of 1896.

The young Virginia Stephen was aware of this volume and of Violet’s friendship with Kate Greenaway. In a letter to Dickinson dated November 9, 1905, she mentions that “Kate Greenaways life is just out” and quotes from the paragraph “Intimacy with Miss Violet Dickinson,” gently teasing her friend about her past and her celebrity status (L1 210-1).  While I have no proof that Woolf owned Greenaway’s little book on flowers, her use of them often has provocative echoes of the Victorian codes, which remain fairly consistent from list to list, and so I chose Dickinson’s version as being the one most likely to be available to Woolf.

Ellis, E.T.  The Garden for Expert and Amateur. London: Daily Express Publications, 1930.

Found in a used bookstall in Lewes, this is the kind of contemporary encyclopedic guide to gardening available to Leonard Woolf in the 1930’s.


Folkard, Richard.  Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics: Embracing the Myths, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore of the Plant Kingdom.   [1884] Rpt. by San Bernadiono CA: Pantinos Classics, 2018.
            As its title suggests, Folkard’s book is particularly useful for folklore references, traditional medicinal uses, superstitions from various areas of the British Isles. As one might expect from a Victorian author, he is also up on the Classics and is sure to note mythological associations from Homer to Ovid. Quotes copiously as well from medieval French sources.

Greenaway, Kate.  The Language of Flowers. London: Routledge 1884. Rpt. Dover, 1992.
            A list of flowers and their meanings, illustrated with Greenaway’s characteristically charming drawings; also contains a small selection of poems about flowers from traditional British writers.

Heilmeyer, Marina.  The Language of Flowers; Symbols and Myths. London: Preste. Verlag, 2001.
While somewhat limited in scope -- it only covers 35 flowers, devoting a page to each -- Heilmeyer presents quite a convenient digest and often mentions associations not caught by other books

Hobhouse, Penelope. Plants in Garden History: An Illustrated History of Plants and Their Influence on Garden Styles, From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. London: Pavillion Books, 1992.
            Hobhouse is a great source for figuring out when a given plant was introduced into UK gardens.

Hogan, Scott, Consultant.  Flora: A Gardenener’s Encyclopedia. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2003. This gigantic (2 vols, 1500+ pp.) reference work was my go-to source for botanical information, especially careful differentiation of species, blooming times, details of appearance, and preferred habitats.

Pratt, Anne.  Flowers and Their Associations.  London: Charles Knight & Co., 1846.
On-line searching located this Victorian volume which is full of bits of lore and stories associated with various flowers.

Rendall, Vernon.  Wild Flowers in Literature.  London: The Scholartis Press, 1934.

This is the most comprehensive collation of flowers references in British literature that I have found.  Interestingly, the author was on the periphery of  Woolf’s circle; he edited The Athenaeum from  1900-1916 (John Middleton Murray took over in 1919), and became editor of the English Review from 1926-30.



Robinson, William.  The English Flower Garden. 15th ed, 1933; rpt and rev 1984. A Ngaere Mccray Book, Sagapress, Inc: Sagaponack, New York, 1984.

                A friend of Violet Dickinson, this father of the “wild garden” movement in England which produced the still-popular vogue for “cottage gardens”, was a mentor to Gertrude Jekyll as well as Dickinson. This is an encyclopedic compilation of his plant lore and gardening advice. The young Virginia Stephen met Robinson in January of 1905 at Dickinson’s London home (PA 229). A few days later, she met Violet at Robinson’s “enormous fire proof block of buildings” in Lincoln Inn Fields to purchase an iron fire grate (231). While she notes that Robinson edited several garden papers, there is no evidence that she read any of them.

Ward, Bobby  J.  A Contemplation Upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature. Portland OR: Timber Press, 1999.
            The useful collection of literary references to flowers, this is the first source I consulted on many flowers. It focuses on English literature and often alerted me to possible antecedents to Woolf’s usage. Also is helpful on species and on classical and mythological references.

Watts, D. C.  Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore. Academic Press: London, 2007.
            Another encyclopedia of stories about plants, this one focusing on local stories, superstitions, and medicinal uses.  Has careful details about various regions of UK, and therefore helpful in suggesting Sussex associations.


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About 98 Flowers

Welcome to the Virginia Woolf Herbarium.  For many years I have been researching and writing about Virginia Woolf and parks, gardens, and fl...