Victorian Tussie Mussie, a Bouquet with Meaning


Lily of the valley means "trustworthy", myrtle "love", hornbeams

Lily of the valley means “trustworthy”, myrtle “love”, hornbeams “resilience”, and field maples “humility “

Most recently, it was Meghan Markle who carried a bridal bouquet in the style of the Victorian tussie mussie. Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge led the way with her own dainty bouquet.

The history of Tussie Mussies stretches back further than that.

A tussie mussie is a small flower arrangement of fragrant herbs and blooms. Originally meant to protect the wearer from noxious odors produced by the poor bathing and sanitary conditions of former times, it remained popular for its charm.

The allure of an aromatic nosegay became linked with the language of flowers, which became all the rage in Victorian times.

Evolution of the Tussy Mussy

A bit of history…

A Nosegay Garden to Supply the Flowers

In the course of history, when body odor, close quarters, and urban open sewage assaulted the noses of low and highborn alike, the garden of simples, herbs, and other necessaries combined into a space which made it easy to cut just the flowers wanted.

We usually call them simply “herb gardens” today, but there was a time when sanitation practice made the need for such bouquets important to health and well-being. These practical gardens were allotted space close to the home and named accordingly.

Flower Meaning becomes Wildly Popular

kew palace garden

Nosegay garden at Kew Palace

Within these herb gardens, one would find roses, mints, tansy, and sage, Thymes, the not-to-be-forgotten Rosemary, Artemisias, and Rue were included, as well. Orris root irises, feverfew, and other beautiful blooms must have made these gardens as delightful to look at as they were to inhale.

Language of Flowers

Victorian Obsessions

As times moved forward, the small personal bouquets known as tussie mussies became more of a fashion accessory than a health necessary, and might have been lost altogether if not for a small tome of Lady Mary Wortley Montague’s.

“There is no colour, no flower, no weed, no fruit, herb, pebble, or feather that has not a verse belonging to it: and you may quarrel, reproach, or send letters of passion, friendship, or civility, or even of news, without ever inking your fingers” from Turkish Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montague

Her recounting of a secret code which used flowers to convey messages in a Turkish harem combined the attraction of the mysterious, the intimate, and the fad of Orientalism into a seductive exotic elixir. The idea caught like wildfire. Cryptic messages, often between would-be lovers, evaded the strict social protocols of the day, and hid within the accepted etiquette of carrying or wearing small flower bouquets.

The tiny silver vases for a tussie mussie that could be pinned to a bodice evolved into the larger silver bouquet holders for bridal arrangements. This is the modern meaning for the term: a cone shaped vase that serves as a bouquet holder.

Create a Victorian Cutting Garden

Wedding Tussie Mussies come and go in fashion, but nothing is daintier, more personal, or more economical than using these for flower girls, bridesmaids, or mother of the bride bouquets.

They are romantic and can be given as favors, tokens of affection, or as “Get Well” gifts because they are so easy to make and take so little plant material for a big effect.

Make a Tussie Mussie Hand Bouquet

Rose for love, Pansy for thoughts, and everlasting for "forever" Photo credit:by Flower Factor

Rose for love, Pansy for thoughts, and everlasting for “forever”
Photo by Flower Factor

The Victorian ladies used a doily, often stiffly starched into shape, but today many hobby stores carry a cone trimmed with lace that can be very effective. Are you fond of crafts? Make a paper cone, with one of these easy directions.

May Day flower cones are a sweet tradition.

Gather your flowers and foliage, with one large bloom like a rose for the center. Five (odd numbers work best) fragrant and pretty leaf bunches, like sage, scented pelargoniums, or sprigs of thyme. Add several smaller, filler flowers evenly around the edge, and finally finish with large pretty leaves making a collar and bind (with rubber band or ribbon or string). Encase the entire flower bouquet in a holder, or a doily bound with a large ribbon.

There are many ways to create these little nosegays, but the main ideas are:

  • Fragrance
  • Meaning
  • Small size
  • Usually a symmetrical arrangement, not always
Photo credit: River Museum

Red rose for romantic love, lily of the valley for trustworthiness, mint for virtue. Photo credit: River Museum

Send a Message

How to include the flower meanings in your creation in 3 Steps.

  1. Put together the blooms with the meanings in mind, almost like the pieces of a phrase or story.
  2. Make a card which gives a clear interpretation of the flowers given.
  3. Tie the card to the bouquet or give a gift of a book of flower meanings.

If you would like to know more about the Language of flowers, see my post on the topic.

The Language of Flowers

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.