Summary and book reviews of The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers

A Novel

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2011, 336 pages
    Apr 2012, 352 pages

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Book Summary

A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it's been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what's been missing in her life, and when she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.


For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Indian and Carolina jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.

Standing in the middle of the room, I located the source of the fire. A neat row of wooden matches lined the foot of the bed. They ignited, one after the next, a glowing picket fence across the piped edging. Watching them light, I felt a terror unequal to the size of the flickering flames, and for a paralyzing moment I was ten years old again, desperate and hopeful in a way I had never been before and would never be again.

But the bare synthetic mattress did not ignite like the thistle had in late October. It smoldered, and then the fire went out.

It ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What potential do Elizabeth, Renata, and Grant see in Victoria that she has a hard time seeing in herself?

  2. While Victoria has been hungry and malnourished often in her life, food ends up meaning more than just nourishment to her.  Why?

  3. Victoria and Elizabeth both struggle with the idea of being part of a family.  What does it mean to you to be part of a family?  What defines family?

  4. Why do you think Elizabeth waits so long before trying to patch things up with her long-lost sister Catherine?  What is the impetus for her to do so?

  5. The first week after her daughter’s birth goes surprisingly well for Victoria.  What is it that makes Victoria feel unable to care for her child after the week ends?&...
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BookBrowse Review


I would personally like to hand a red rose to Vanessa Diffenbaugh for her first novel. I loved it! She has managed to weave together her knowledge of the meaning of flowers with an in-depth look at the foster care system, weddings, marriage, heartbreak, and mending fences (Barbara S).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (525 words).

Media Reviews

Washington Post - Brigitte Weeks

This novel is both enchanting and cruel, full of beauty and anger. Diffenbaugh is a talented writer and a mesmerizing storyteller. She includes a flower dictionary in case we want to use the language ourselves. And there is one more sprig I should add to her bouquet: a single pink carnation (I will never forget you).

Publishers Weekly

Struggling against all and ultimately reborn, Victoria Jones is hard to love, but very easy to root for.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Fans of Janet Fitch's White Oleander will enjoy this solid and well-written debut, which is also certain to be a hit with book clubs.


Starred Review. Enchanting, ennobling, and powerfully engaging, Diffenbaugh's artfully accomplished debut novel lends poignant testimony to the multitude of mysteries held in the human heart.

The Scotsman

While Diffenbaugh's to be admired for not making Victoria a household saint, this novel, with its gooey fairy-tale ending, is more cherry blossom (impermanence) and violet (modest worth) than gentian (intrinsic worth) and laurel (glory and success).

Author Blurb Beth Hoffman, author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Devastating, hopeful, and beautifully written, The Language of Flowers is a testament to the tender mercies and miraculous healing power of love.

Author Blurb Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah's Key
This heartbreaking debut novel about mothers and daughters, love, and the secret significance of flowers had me weeping with emotion and wonder. Victoria Jones is an unforgettable heroine and you will never look at flowers the same way again.

Author Blurb Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
A deftly powerful story of finding your way home, even after you've burned every bridge behind you, The Language of Flowers took my heart apart, chapter by chapter, then reassembled the broken pieces in better working condition. I loved this book.

Author Blurb Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama
This hope-soaked, glorious book speaks to every once-broken, cracked, or poorly mended heart about the risks we take to heal, to be fully human, to truly connect. An astonishingly assured debut.

Author Blurb Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
The Language of Flowers gives us new definitions of human compassion in all its forms. Bouquets of laurel and trumpet vine await this beautifully arranged story!

Reader Reviews

D. V. C.

Favorite Book
The use of flowers to describe Victoria's life is breathtaking.


A simply gorgeous read that was riveting & engaging from the very beginning. It had me pondering the significance of what it means to be a mother or a daughter. Stayed with me for days & captured my heart forever. By far one of the best ...   Read More

Anne Cater

What a beautiful book, both the story itself and the actual book. The cover is a stunning design, and different parts of the story have front pages with gorgeous calligraphy - it really is beautifully designed and presented. The subject of the ...   Read More

Dorothy T.

Great read!
I like how the structure of this novel--switching between the past and the present--kept me engaged all through the read, as well as the characters, main and secondary, and the themes of love and loss, mothers and daughters. There is much here for ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers

While researching the symbolism of various plants for her novel, Vanessa Diffenbaugh The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh discovered that, "nearly every flower had multiple meanings, listed in hundreds of books, in dozens of languages, and on countless websites." This left her with the challenge of determining which meanings were most "correct," or at the very least, most relevant to her work.

With great care, Diffenbaugh researched the scientific definitions of many plants and herbs, and she learned how various flora came to hold social significance. She explains:

"Lining up dictionaries on my dining room table... I scanned the meanings, selecting the definition that best fit the science of each flower, just as [her character...

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