The practice of associating certain seasonal flowers with birth months has been around since the ancient world. We take a look at the most commonly recognised birth flowers, plus how to grow them and arrange with them
Much like the tradition of birth stones, the origins of birth flowers are shrouded in mystery. But it's likely that since the time of the ancient Romans, people have been assigning seasonal flowers to the months of the year, the better to use them as gifts and decoration for those born in that month. It's a pretty loose tradition, and opinions vary on the correct birth flower for some months; most, in fact, have ended up with two. Some of these work best when planted in a garden, others are spectacular flowers for bouquets and arrangements. Scroll down to find your own birth flowers, and you'll know what flowers to order when your birthday rolls around.
January birth flowers: snowdrops and carnations
Snowdrops are a joy when they burst through the ground and bloom at the harsh end of winter, lighting up the garden and signalling that spring is not far away. The genus name comes from the Greek gála (milk) and ánthos (flower), making the flower sacred to all mother goddesses. It also belongs to Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, who brought snowdrops with her when she returned from Hades in spring. Today, experts and amateurs who become addicted to collecting different types of snowdrops are known as galanthophiles.
While carnations are feeling a bit out of fashion right now, thanks to their ubiquity in cheap petrol station bouquets, there's a whole world of these beautiful flowers out there to explore. In the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, they were all the rage among the aristocracy and appear all over the still lifes of the Dutch Masters. It's worth seeking out more unusual striped, bi-coloured and double varieties, as they can make for a beautiful bouquet of cut flowers.
February birth flowers: violets and primroses
In the bleak chill of mid-February, the purple flowers of sweet violets (Viola odorata) unfurl, filling the air with one of the most incredible scents in the plant world. Humble in appearance, the little flowers, nestled amongst heart-shaped leaves, on 10-centimetre stems, are easy to miss. A native wildflower, they can often be spotted around hedgerows and woodland edges. St Valentine is usually associated with red roses, but roses don't flower until summer, and the Italian saint's true flower is in fact the violet, which blooms around Valentine's Day.
Equally charming harbingers of spring are primroses, which are among the earliest of spring blooms. Their pretty pale yellow flowers cluster under hedgerows or on field edges, studding the grass and offering a source of early nectar for bees. As garden plants, primroses come in many forms as part of the large Primula family, including coloured forms of the common primrose (P. vulgaris), as well as many others, from auriculas to Asiatic candelabra primulas.
March birth flower: daffodils
Traditionally daffodils symbolize new beginnings, fertility, good luck and strength. These welcome heralds of spring are often seen as simple, childlike blooms, but in fact come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colours, from ivory to egg-yolk orange and even an elusive shade of translucent pink. They can look fantastic in a uniform arrangement with no other flowers.
April birth flowers: daisies and sweet peas
These two cheerful flowers start to come into their own in spring, and remain joyful presences in the summer garden as well. Daisies are a flower of infinite variety, ranging from the tiny, sprightly lawn daisies that naturally crop up in the grass, to their larger cousins the oxeye daisy and the gerbera, and the coneflowers and asters of autumn. Colourful, scented sweet peas might feel like more of a summer flower, but they can start to become a presence in the garden from late spring, and make for the most delightful cut flower arrangements. Their soft frilly blooms come in ball gown shades of cream, pink, soft blue and purple, and homegrown sweet peas are an inexpensive summer luxury.
May birth flowers: lily of the valley and hawthorn
In late spring and early summer, lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) blooms in ancient woodland and floods the air with incredible scent. On arching stems, the pearl-like ivory buds open into white bells amongst the large, lush green leaves, which are the shape of hares’ ears. It is a popular flower in bridal bouquets, since it is believed to bring luck in love. The flower remained popular with Queen Elizabeth, who named it as her favourite flower in 2020; it was used in her coronation bouquet in 1953 and retained special associations ever since.
Meanwhile the hawthorn tree also comes into bountiful blossom in this month, scenting Britain's hedgerows with its tiny white, pink or red flowers. It makes for a beautiful display along with its fellow blossoming trees and the clouds of cow parsley that also bloom in May. It's a great tree to use when decorating with spring branches, just be careful of the thorns!
June birth flowers: rose and honeysuckle
Along with Pimm's and strawberries and cream, roses are one of the most potent symbols of British summertime. With their heavily scented, sumptuous blooms, they exude an old-fashioned charm that appeals to almost everyone and make the most romantic arrangements, whether displayed singly, clustered together in posies, or thrown together with other summer flowers in a looser composition. If you're planting roses, there is a rose to suit any personality and any garden (find out more about how to choose the right rose and how to plant roses).
Beautiful, fragrant honeysuckle is another of the flowers associated with the month of June, a romantic climber that works beautifully in a cottage garden. You can also buy winter-flowering varieties that will scent the garden in winter.
July birth flowers: delphiniums and water lily
The best blues in the garden, delphiniums light up the back of the border with immense candles of cobalt, sapphire, and azure. Reaching 1.5 to 1.8 metres, they point towards the blue summer sky and, at their best, outshine every plant in the vicinity. The lesser-known pastel forms are also beautiful and essential perennials in the cottage garden, which is the historic home of delphiniums.
Long associated with the painter Monet, who created a water garden at his house at Giverny, waterlilies are enchanting flowers that seem to emerge magically from the surface of ponds. The sacred blue waterlily, Nymphaea caerulea, was first cultivated in Ancient Egypt, its flowers made into garlands and used in religious rituals, while the seeds were taken as a narcotic, apparently with a Viagra-like effect. It wasn't until the fourth century BC that the plant was named by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus after the water nymphs of Greek mythology. The appearance of the waterlily in European gardens is more recent; they have been grown as ornamental plants since the end of the 19th century.
August birth flowers: poppies and gladioli
It is near impossible to feel miserable gazing at a sea of poppies. Whether they are staining a cornfield red or dotted through a flower border in splashes of scarlet, garnet, and purple, they are sheer joy. Up close, the charming blooms resemble crumpled silk, and, from a distance, their blazing colour is unbeatable. Children love them, as do most grown-ups, but of course for many people these cheerful-looking flowers have a sorrowful symbolism.
Immortalised as ‘gladdies’ by Barry Humphries’ comic creation Dame Edna Everage, gladioli are the undisputed divas of the plant world. The towering grandiflorus hybrids come in a rainbow of gaudy colours that can look faintly ridiculous in a tasteful English border, but they are, by the same token, rather fabulous planted with dahlias in a deliberately flamboyant cutting garden.
September birth flowers: asters and morning glory
Producing clouds of colourful daisies during the autumn months, whilst the majority of the garden is browning into hibernation, asters are stalwart perennials. The most dazzling of the vast range available are the lilac and blue forms, which glow incredible hues beneath the grey skies and sit so well with autumn’s golden grasses. The soft-pink forms are also beautiful, providing warmth when the weather cools and the perfect foil for falling copper leaves.
These bright blue trumpet shaped flowers are a welcome lingerer in the early autumn garden. The name derives from the flowers' habit of opening in the morning and closing in the afternoon. A fast growing plant, it will climb quickly over pergolas, walls and arches, though they can get out of hand without regular pruning.
October birth flowers: marigolds and cosmos
Blazing in shades of orange, gold, peach, and red, marigolds inject the garden with warmth and cheer during summer and into autumn. The flower name encompasses two types of plant: Calendula and Tagetes. Both are easy to grow from seed and boast the fascinating ability to attract wildlife and, in turn, stave off pests in the vegetable garden.
Possessing incredible flower power, annual cosmos produce a glut of bloom from June until the first frosts, making them a joy to grow. Resembling large daisies, they are friendly looking plants that children warm to, and they open in shades of white, yellow, orange, pink, and red, above gorgeous apple-green ferny foliage. In recent years, they have enjoyed a surge in popularity because they are easy to grow as cut flowers. Like sweet peas, they need to be harvested regularly to maintain their flower production, and they last well in the vase.
November birth flower: chrysanthemums
Towards the end of autumn, the bloom of many late-flowering plants is sparse, with just a few flowers on the stems. Beside them, chrysanthemums are still going strong: each plant a mound of daisies in sultry, rich colours that suit this time of year. Along with their merits as cut flowers, this late-season flower power is one of the reasons they are enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
The flowers range from buxom mopheads a handful in size, to button-sized pom-poms. Many resemble daises, with simple single flowers or double ruffle rosettes. And sometimes they have a wilder, spidery look, matching John Steinbeck’s description that one bloom, ‘Looks like a quick puff of coloured smoke.’
December birth flowers: paperwhites and holly
An indoor pot of paperwhites is a beautiful way to bring scent and colour inside during the festive season. Plant the bulbs in containers between mid-October and late November, putting them somewhere dark and cool for a few weeks to imitate the passage of winter, and then placing them somewhere light and warm (like a windowsill or greenhouse) about six weeks before you want them to flower.
Holly trees, which have long been taken to symbolise the power and fertility of nature in winter's darkest days, are a useful plant to have for Christmas decorating. As interior designer Carlos Garcia advises, “use branches of varied conifers, holly and long strands of ivy to create a wonderfully festive environment, and add fern leaves and dead tree branches to create a realistic woodland still life.”
This story was originally published on House & Garden UK.