Monday, July 14, 2014

Flower People: Ladies' Names in the Summer Garden

            Lots of 'ladies' showing up these days in the summer garden. Off the top of my head we have the lily, the rose, black-eyed Susans, Queen Anne's Lace, and Lady's Mantle.
            Do these names belong to women first, or flowers? In the most common cases, not surprisingly, the flowers got there first.           
            Daylilies (pictured in the top two photos), tiger lilies, ornamental lilies, Asiatic lilies -- lilies are everywhere this time of year. The word 'lily' is found in Middle English and derived from the Latin word lilium, which even back then appears to be a name for the flower. The English, at least, took the name to mean 'pure' and hence gave it to their daughters.
           Other names abound in the daylily family alone. The daylily depicted in the top photo is various called by various names --the "orange daylily," "tawny daylily," "tiger daylily" and "ditch daylily" -- some of them sounding distinctly less than pure. 

            'Rose' (third pic down) has a frightfully confused etymology. One theory traces its origin to a word that means 'thorn' or 'bramble,' which at least makes sense to culivators of this beautiful, celebrated, and common the world over plant. The gardener define it as "blood-letting experience." No rose, without the thorns. The photo here shows our ever-blooming roses, peaking now. They're prone to black-spot disease and they take of trimming and thorny care.

            However, when we come to Black-Eyed Susans, Queen Anne's Lace, and Lady's Mantle -- all of which sound like there must be a story behind them -- we find that real (or legendary) people have loaned their names to the plants. 
            Who was the original "Black-Eyed Susan”? (fourth and fifth photos) Legend has it that name came from a poem of that name by English poet John Gay (most famous as the author "The Beggar's Opera," a satire of corruption on various levels of society). Here's the excerpt I found from the poem:

All in the downs, the fleet was moored,
Banners waving in the wind.
When Black-Eyed Susan came aboard,
and eyed the burly men.
“Tell me ye sailors, tell me true
Does my Sweet William sail with you?”

            Some year, if I may make a parenthetical note, we also have 'Sweet William' growing in our garden; not it seems this year.
            The best thing about the plant "Black-Eyed Susan” is that it's, well, promiscuous. It's all over the place. It's cheerful, adaptable, undemanding, and fills the space you don't have other plans for, so I pretty let it have the run of the place.
            The point of the name Queen Anne's Lace (also in forth photo and in fifth) is sort of self-evident, but I didn't know if we were looking at a particular queen. Apparently, we are. The name comes from lacy look of the plant's white flowers and foliage and goes back to Queen Anne who was the wife of King James I of England. She was enamored of a particular variety of hard-to-make lace.
            Lady's Mantle gets its name because in the Middle Ages the plant was dedicated to "Our Lady" Virgin Mary. Other female associations abound. It has lacy flowers and the leaves, I am told,  resemble the scalloped edges of a mantle. The plant is also alleged to be "a healing herb for women" and said to regulate the menstrual cycle. Also to drive away a threat or (take your pick) "attract love."
          I think all these flowers attract love, especially in the third week of July when they're still going strong.