More about Flowers

I really enjoyed Laurie Alice’s post on flowers in regency England in springtime. It dovetails well with the post I’ve been thinking about, which is on the meanings and legends of common flowers during both the regency and Victorian eras in Britain.

May Flowers in a Teacup
Forget-me-nots and white lilacs in spring

The forget-me-not, a common flower in regency gardens was called by Coleridge “blue and bright-eyed flower of the brook.” It’s official name “myosotis” actually means the not-so-romantic “mouse ear,” so named because of the shape of its leaves.

A German legend has it that a knight fell into a swift stream while picking the forget-me-not for his lady. He had only time to toss it to her and cry, “Forget-me-not!” before he was swept away. British king Henry IV chose it as one of his emblems, and it was often embroidered on the king’s robes.

It was not until the regency that it became a garden flower.

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Foxglove in a Maine garden

Ever wonder why foxgloves are called by that name? Digitalis, the official name, is not nearly as descriptive. The old English name of foxes-glofa means foxes’ gloves. The fable is that foxes were hunted for their tails, which were considered amulets against the snares of the devil. In order to hang onto their furry brushes, they appealed to the gods for help, who gave them bells to hide in the fields. The bells would sound a warning when hunters were about and become silent when the coast was clear.

All that ducking and dodging the hunters had given the foxes rough paws, so that when they went hunting in the chicken coops, the chickens would squawk when seized by them. This time the fairies gave the foxes gloves to cover their paws with, and these became known as fox gloves.

Digitalis, which the leaves yield, is a recognized heart stimulant, which was used by American Indians before it became known in Europe. It is also a poison, so it was only used externally by Europeans until the 18th century. It then began to be used in the treatment of fevers, insanity and heart disease.

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Red roses in a park in Brooklyn in June

Roses cultivated in Europe before 1800 are usually referred to as “old roses.” Not until 1792 when a rose from China was introduced into Europe did any of them bloom more than once a year. (The only occasional exception was the Damascus). Rose water was used for cooking. Vanilla supplanted it as a flavoring extract in the 17th century. Rose oil, rose water and rose petals continued in British pharmacopoeias but more and more for use in cosmetics. Attar of roses, the essential oil, took 60,000 roses to make one ounce!

One of the earlier spring flowers, the pansy, goes by many names including “Kiss-Me-Quick” and “Johnny-Jump-Up.” The word pansy is derived from the French penser, to think, which is why Ophelia said “Pansies, that’s for thoughts.” Legend had it that to pick one with the dew upon it would cause the death of a loved one. If picked on a fair day, it would rain before night. Pansy juice squeezed on the lids of a sleeper would cause her to fall in love with the first person she saw on awaking, as Titania discovered in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

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A Heart’s Rebellion, London Encounters #2

The hero of my upcoming regency, A Heart’s Rebellion, is an amateur botanist, so he will usually refer to a flower by its official name. The system of classifying plants into genus and species was still a new science in the regency era. The heroine’s name, Jessamine, is a form of jasmine, which the hero is fond of calling by its official name, Gelsemium sempervirens.

Bibliography: Flower Fables by Geraldine E. Nicholson, Mid-America Publishing Corp., Kansas City, Missouri

 

A Walk Through a Botanical Garden in A Heart’s Rebellion

Since most of us in cold climates are thinking spring, I thought I’d take you on a tour of a botanical garden near London, just as my heroine, Jessamine Barry, does about two-thirds of the way through the story.
The hero, Lancelot Marfleet is an avid botanist and he wants nothing better than to invite the woman of his dreams, Jessamine, to view the exotic specimens in the botanical gardens. He knows her father is an amateur botanist, so he hopes Jessamine shares a love of plants and flowers.

paeonia moutan
The botanical gardens in London during the regency period were the largest in the world at the time. Plants had been brought back from all corners of the globe by renowned explorers and botanists such as Sir Joseph Banks on his exploration with Captain Cook. One of the plants introduced to Europe by Banks was the peony, a native bush of China. Lancelot shows Jessamine a specimen, because he knows her father is an avid peony enthusiast.

 

Hydrangea
Woodblock print, ‘Hydrangeas’ by Sakai Ōho (1808-1841)
Victoria and Albert Museum
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Strelitzia reginae from the Botanists Repository by Henry Charles Andrews

 

Next, Lancelot leads her to an ornamental bush brought over from Japan by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the late 1780s, the common bush we know as the hydrangea, or in Lancelot’s terminology, Hydrangea hortensis.

 

 

 

He then shows her an exotic flower brought back by Banks’ trip to the Pacific with Captain Cook. It looks like a waterbird ready to take flight, Jessamine tells him. Appropriately names Bird of Paradise, or Strelitzia reginae, she is properly impressed.

 

 

 

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Jasminum, William Farquhar Collection (1819-1823)

But it’s when they walk through the hothouses that things heat up (pun intended). Lancelot leads Jessamine toward a very special flower to him, the jasmine, for which her father named her. It’s a vine with a small, white star-like flower with a heady scent. Being so near it causes him to lose his head.

But you’ll have to read the book to find out what he does and how she reacts!

To celebrate the release of A Heart’s Rebellion, I’m giving away two copies of my book. The second giveaway will end Monday, March 31 at midnight. To enter this week’s giveaway, answer this question in the comments below:

What is a famous botanical garden in London, which existed in regency times (which is where Lancelot takes Jessamine)?

Thanks for stopping by Regency Reflections for our Spring Release Extravaganza! Make sure to visit throughout the month of April to read about the other regency books coming out and have a chance at some great prizes.

Ruth Axtell

Spring at Kew Gardens

Peony cluster Spring is bulb season at Kew. From the carpets of the small, blue, bell-like squill to the tall straight tulips with their simple form, there are bright primary colors everywhere.

What was it like in regency times?

outside my writing windowRhododendron Dell, originally known as the Hollow Walk, was formed at the edge of the Thames out of its flood plain. Famous landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown designed it in 1773 in the shape of a horseshoe and planted hundreds of mountain laurels along it, which gave it the nickname of Laurel Walk.

 

Kew_Palace

The Dutch House, or the royal palace with its Dutch architectural style, doubtless had many flower gardens enjoyed by the royal family who frequently stayed there. In springtime, tulips, narcissus, squill, and hyacinths were popular bulbs. Since the tulip craze in the Netherlands in the 17th century, the hyacinth, also originating from Turkey in the 1500s, became very popular to cultivate in the 18th century and regency England.

Mora & Ruth with Peonies

 

 

 

I’ve included some photos of my own garden flowers to give you an idea of what visitors to the royal gardens at Kew might enjoy in the early 1800s. garden photos 0072010 garden 002IMG_3442IMG_3441

Botany in the Georgian and Regency Eras

In researching my current WIP (Work-in-Progress) I needed to find a botanical garden for my hero and heroine to tour. I had the Chelsea PhysicGarden all lined up.

paeonia moutan

Chelsea at the time of the regency was an outlying suburb of London, very close to Mayfair. In fact all the land around Chelsea and Brompton as you were leaving London was dedicated to commercial nurseries since the soil was quite fertile. Many of these were walled gardens. Chelsea Physic (meaning healing) Garden was a renowned herbal garden right by the Thames.

However, I found out that the garden was off limits to women until later in the 19th century!

I had one other choice, although it was farther from London: Kew Botanical Gardens, which is about ten miles southwest of the center of London.

The late Georgian period (last half of the 18th century) was a great age for botany in England and other parts of Europe. England was ahead of much of Europe because of its great colonizing efforts and intrepid navy and merchant ships sailing the seas. Often these ships carried botanists aboard who collected all kinds of seeds and plants to bring back home. (Remember the ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, in the movie Master and Commander?)

Sir Joseph Banks, 1812

One of the greatest botanists of the time, Sir Joseph Banks traveled with Captain Cook on his first voyage and brought back many specimens from the South Seas from this trip. In the 1790s, King George III (before going mad) was very interested in agriculture (hence his nickname “Farmer George”). It wasn’t just an idle hobby. He hoped to use the new plant discoveries in the different parts of the British empire to improve the agriculture economy of the British empire. One successful example of this was the importation of the recently discovered breadfruit from the Pacific to the West Indies (Jamaica) as a cheap, starchy foodstuff to feed slaves.

Strelitzia - Bird of Paradise

From the  early 1780s, Banks became an adviser to the king for Kew Gardens. Banks was responsible for making it into a world class botanical garden. He sent collectors on various ships going overseas specifically to bring back seeds or plants from every continent on the globe. He is credited with bringing back himself or through these collectors the peony, hydrangea, mimosa, acacia, eucalyptus, lotus flower, tiger lily, and bird of paradise.

Lilium lancifolium - Tiger Lily

In 1789, a seminal work of botany Hortus Kewensis was published by one of the curators of Kew Gardens. It listed all the plants cultivated in the Kew Botanical Gardens up to that point, which was more than 5,000! Another important thing about both the catalog and the garden was that they used the relatively new plant classification system called the Linnaean System developed by Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, the naming of species. It is the system we’re familiar with today of giving plants a Latin name and grouping them in descending orders of family, genus, species, etc.

This just scratches the surface of the field of botany during the time of the regency. For more reading on the history of Kew Gardens or the science of botany, here are a few sources:

 

http://Hortus Kewensis, or a Catalogue of the Plants Cultivated in the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew by William Aiton

http://The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew: The Historical and Descriptive