Friday, February 10, 2012

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Tussie Mussies

A tussie mussie

You don't need flowery language to impress your sweetheart this Valentine's Day, especially if he or she is a gardener. And you don't necessarily need to bust the bank for a dozen long-stemmed roses either.

Take a cue from the Victorian era, when romance was in full bloom. Try a tussie mussie.

These small bouquets, usually made of fragrant flowers and herbs, have been around since medieval times. The spelling varies, with either a "y" or "ie" at the end, and they sometimes are called a nosegay or posy.

No one's quite sure where the name came from (although just pronouncing it makes me smile). One guess is that "tussie" comes from an Old English word for a knot of flowers. "Mussie" is thought to be a reference to the moss that probably was used to keep the flowers fresh.

Tussie mussies originally were used to keep the nose "gay" or happy at a time when the standards of public sanitation and private hygiene were much lower than today. Their fragrance protected the bearer from bad smells, which were thought to cause disease.

Then along came the Victorian era, which took tussie mussies to a whole new level. (Dim lights, play romantic music.) They used floriography -- the language of flowers -- to convey a secret message in their bouquets. The color of the rose you picked, for example, showed your true feelings.

A pink rose was for grace and beauty; yellow, friendship; white, innocence and purity; orange, enthusiasm or fascination; light peach, modesty; and purple, enchantment. A red rose? That was for romantic love, of course, a meaning that persists to this day.

Other flowers and their meanings include rosemary for remembrance; oregano, joy; sage, wisdom; purple heather, admiration and beauty; hydrangea, devotion; and baby's breath, everlasting love.

Traditionally, a tussie mussie had one main flower in the middle surrounded by filler plants and herbs, and came in a special metal bouquet holder. The concept has evolved over the years, though, and you can now find a large variety of shapes, sizes, styles and containers.

While most use fresh flowers that can be left to dry naturally, some incorporate silk flowers or dried materials. Ribbons, lace or even a vintage Valentine can be added, depending on what you think the object of your affection might appreciate.

So this Feb. 14, go for something a little out of the ordinary. Make your message more personal and interesting with a tussie mussie.

-- Chalet Nursery will have fresh tussie mussies available starting Saturday, Feb. 11 for a limited time. They are made by Kate Rice of Grayslake, IL.

By Karen Geisler