Book Review: 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names, by Diana Wells
100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names will not make you a better gardener, but it should make you a more amused and informed gardener. And it may provide you with the material for some witty or scholarly remarks you could mention casually at next summer’s garden walks.
Diana Wells provides brief, entertaining, and erudite background on the names of 100 popular garden plants. Often she adds tidbits about people with whom said plants are associated.
Here are a few samples:
- The name Nasturtium (Tropaeolum) comes from the Latin for “twisted nose”. This is because the pungent smell makes some people wrinkle their noses.
- For centuries Yarrow was used medicinally, for example to slow bleeding. The botanical name, Achillea, derives from Achilles using the plant to treat his soldiers’ wounds. The common name comes from the Anglo-Saxon gaerwe, meaning to prepare, as people thought Yarrow could prevent illness.
- The subject of bleeding leads me to Hyacinth (Hyacinthus), a beautiful youth loved by Apollo. Unfortunately, the young man received an accidental but fatal head wound. While dying in Apollo’s arms, a flower grew from Hyacinth’s bloody forehead. Apollo’s lovers had a habit of turning into plants. Maybe he should have tried to get them covered under his insurance.
- Iris are named after a messenger of the gods in Greek mythology. The fleur-de-lis is actually an iris (I always thought it was a Lily). Irises growing in the water enabled King Clovis of the Franks to identify a shallow river crossing he used to escape hostile Goths. After that it was the symbol of the Kings of France. Louis VII had irises on his banners during the Crusades. They were called fleur de luis, which then became fleur-de-lis.
If this is the kind of thing you appreciate, then read 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names. If it isn’t, then I have nothing for you at the moment.
Now here’s a totally unrelated question. Has anyone else discovered that WordPress no longer allows you to word searches of your photo gallery? All of a sudden all I can do is call them up by month of posting.