What in the world is a “ Tussie-Mussie”?
The Victorian art of expressing sentiment through the language of flowers.
Well, how ROMANTIC can you get? To give or receive a sumptous bouquet of flowers is always an ecstatic occasion , but to receive a bouquet that carries a message adds a whole new dimension of Intrigue and Fascination.
They’ve been forgotten for a while, but the "Tussie-Mussie” is making a comeback. Baby Boomers are perhaps more familiar with the term “nosegay”, a latter-day DESCENDANT OF THE "Tussie-Mussie".
Aside from their obvious beauty and whimsy, many people don’t realize that there is symbolism attached to each of the flowers used in these bewitching little bouquets.
My first encounter with a nosegay occurred at the age of nine. It arrived as my reward for successfully surviving the terrors of my first annual piano recital. It was a gift that made a lifelong impact on me. My wise and perceptive mother understood that if there ever was to be another piano recital in my future, that an incentive was in order…the “carrot”, so to speak.
Knowing that I was (and have always been) hooked on flowers, my mother had my piano teacher present me, at the end of my performance, with my first nosegay, a small, sweet, trophy of diligence and courage. The rest is history. The prospect of receiving yet another at the next recital was all I needed to summon up the courage to survive many piano recitals to come. My first nosegay. Just a bunch of flowers, you say? No, this was not just any bouquet…this was a floral poem. Talisman roses clustered tightly at the peaked center, nestled into a flurry of pansies, all caught in a ruffle of real lace and tied off in a cascade of pink satin ribbons. My mother found a Vienna-born florist who understood the meaning of romance. Not every florist is familiar with “Tussie-Mussies”. You may have to search for one.
Now for a brief history of the “Tussie-Mussie”. It can be traced back to ancient Greece, the Aztec Civilization, and was well known in Medieval and Elizabethan Europe. In Elizabethan Europe, the words “Tussie-Mussie” meant “sweet posey”. These little bouquets, made of fresh herbs, were popular at a time when there was little sanitation. There was a plague, and personal hygiene was minimal, at best. Fresh herbs provided a pleasing scent and were thought to be a protection against germs. The original “Tussie-Mussies” were comprised of herbs such as Rosemary, Thyme, and Rue.
The Elizabethan judges carried “Tussie-Mussies” (so you see, they are appropriate for men, too) into their courtrooms to protect themselves from fever, via prison inmates.
It was not until the 1700’s, in England, that flowers were used as a language, to communicate the sentiments of the giver. The Victorians mastered this language, and the “Tussie-Mussie” became a popular and prestigious means of expression in love and courtship.
Flowers and herbs are customarily used, with the central flower expressing the most important sentiment. This flower (or small cluster) is then surrounded by other flowers and herbs, thus creating a “talking bouquet”.
The traditional “Tussie-Mussie” is about 6” in diameter. Latter day nosegays were sometimes a little larger. As this was intended to be held, sniffed, and carried everywhere, it was important that it not be too cumbersome.
Characteristic of the “Tussie-Mussie” is the tightness of the flower assemblage and the concentric rings of flowers and herbs. A typical example would be a central perfect Rose, surrounded by Violets, then Parsley, then Pansies, ending in a wreath of Ivy.
It’s up to you. Be creative. Be sure to secure the bouquet with a rubber band at the base of the flowers. The stems are traditionally trimmed to about 4”, then wrapped in floral tape. I love to nestle the tight bouquet into a pretty real lace collar, and tie multiple narrow looped satin ribbons ending in streamers under the collar. A card can be tied to the ribbons conveying your message. If the “Tussie-Mussie” will be placed into a vase of water, skip the tape and just wrap the stems with some raffia(to conceal the elastic band).
In order to create “the language” of this significant bouquet for the special lady or gentleman, the following are but a few flowers from which you might choose:
Sage – Wisdom
White Zinnia – Thoughts of Absent Friends
Hosta – Devotion
Impatiens – Felicity, Love
Feverfew - Good Health
Pinks/Dianthus – Lively, Affection, Fascination, Willow – Calmness, Serenity
Statice – Sympathy
Lily-of-the-Valley – Return of Purity, Happiness, Delicacy
Ivy – Friendship, Fidelity
Parsley – Festivity
Basil – Best Wishes
Red Geranium – Comfort, Health
Pine – Loyalty, Longevity
Laurel – Success
Yarrow – Health
Forget-Me-Not – Hope, True
Lamb’s Ears – Support
Tulip – Happy Years, Memory
Fern – Fascination
Rosemary - Remembrance
The “Tussie-Mussie” is a fanciful housewarming or hostess gift, a natural for Valentine’s Day, a Proposal, Mother’s Day, Bat Mitzvah’s, Christmas, Get Well, and let us not forget, Recitals.
The Victorians were so serious about their “Tussie-Mussies” that a variety of elegant sterling silver as well as crystal cone-shaped holders came into existence, which can still be found today, if you are lucky, in antiques stores.
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. Yes, she’ll love the pink cashmere sweater. And he is going to enjoy his new techno-gadget. But wouldn’t the evening be even sweeter in the presence of a romantic “Tussie-Mussie”?
Pour the champagne, bring out the truffles, and say it with flowers.
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