Today’s nosegay bouquets are associated mainly with weddings. This round arrangement is known for its densely packed flowers which are often bound with a ribbon. While the bride usually carries a larger bouquet, the members of the wedding party usually carry the smaller nosegays. In addition to weddings, nosegay bouquets are also popular as gifts for a variety of occasions.
While today’s nosegay bouquets are mainly associated with weddings, that has not always been the case. First introduced in the Middle Ages, nosegays — also called tussie mussies — were worn in the lapels of both men and women. Since bathing was not performed regularly, clothes were often worn several days in a row and there was little attention given to sanitation, strong odors usually pervaded everyday life. In addition, many believed that bubonic plague was caused by breathing the “bad air.” By wearing these small bouquets, it was easy to turn one’s head to the side and breathe deeply of these sweet smelling flowers, thus keeping the “nose gay” or happy.
The Victorian Era
By the time Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, nosegays were considered the fashion “must have.” Instead of just being skilled in piano playing, singing, sewing and art, an accomplished young lady of the time also learned how to make these small bouquets. Those who were fortunate enough to receive a formal education also took courses in floral arrangement where they learned the meaning of each flower. These meanings were derived from classical mythology, folklore and religious symbolism. In addition, most suitors gave their intended small bouquets. Flowers for these were carefully selected for the message they were believed to convey.
Nosegay Bouquets Today
Today’s nosegays usually consist of a central flower or flowers, such as two or three roses, then several “filler flowers” and herbs such as lavender, baby’s breath, rosemary, ivy or mint. Around he outside of the flowers and herbs are leaves for framing the flowers. Some of the most commonly used leaves are those from geraniums, violets, lamb’s ears or even hosta. These flowers are then tied, wrapped with a paper or lace doily and secured with ribbon. Often a card is included that lists the meaning of each of the flowers.
In addition to weddings, today’s nosegays are used for center pieces, hospital tables, curtain tiebacks and even Christmas ornaments. Perhaps one of the most unusual uses of nosegays is found in English courtrooms. There nosegays are carried into England’s highest court six times a year to commemorate their use there in Elizabethan times to ward off “gaol” or “jail” fever.
References and ResourcesYankee Peddler Festival: Head Garlands and Nosegays
The Master Gardeners: Tussie-mussies-- "Talking Bouquets"