I consider the Garden Balsam to be one of the most beautiful flowers in my garden. I just love its unique, tropical appearance and its stunning flowers! Mrs. Grieve calls it "one of the showiest of summer and autumn flowers" and G. Francis, in The Favorites of the Flowers Garden (1844) says that it "may be ranked amongst the most elegant annuals that the warmest climates have afforded us".
Impatiens balsamina is a native of India, China and Japan. The exact date of its introduction is uncertain, but we do know that it was cultivated by John Gerard in 1596. It was first offered in America by J. Townley of Boston in 1760.
Thomas Jefferson planted "Double Balsam" at Shadwell on April 2, 1767, sent "Balsamine" from Paris to Francis Eppes in 1786, and, in 1812, received "seed of some very superior Impatience Balsamina" from the Philadelphia seedsman, Bernard McMahon.
Although seldom seen in modern gardens, it was well-known in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The most popular were the double, or Camellia flowered varieties. Walter Elder praises it highly in his article for The Gardener's Monthly, entitled "Despise Not the Day of Small Things" (1863): "Of annuals, what can be compared to the Camellia Balsam, as double as a rose; no wax work nor any imitation of man, can compare with it in rich and dazzling beauty".
But my favorite is 'Peppermint Sticks', which has strikingly beautiful red and white mottled flowers. Although 'Peppermint Sticks' is a newer variety from Holland, its amazing colors are nothing new. As early as 1807, Alexander McDonald mentions a variety "with large double variegated scarlet and white flowers". Walter Elder, writing in 1863, extols "The white and scarlet spotted" balsam as "unequaled among flowers". And I quite agree! When they are in bloom, I often find myself just staring at them in awe!
Like so many of our treasure garden flowers, it has been given many names by its admirers. Among these are Rose Balsam, Lady's Slipper, Somer-sots, Garden Jewelweed, Tree Impatiens, and Touch-me-not. The last is a reference to the way the ripe seed pods burst open when touched, scattering the seeds some distance from the plant. Impatiens is derived from this same fact, and I am told that all members of the genus have this same characteristic.
G. Francis also relates "a curious circumstance" of the seeds. He writes that "those which are fresh, or of last year's growth only, seldom produce double flowers; but to have these, you must sow seeds from three to nine years old". Joseph Breck said much the same thing in his Book of Flowers (1851). I am definitely going to be experimenting with this in the years to come!
So far as I know, I. balsamina has no medicinal use. However, the Japanese used the juice of the plant prepared with alum to dye their nails red.
G. Francis writes that "the Turks represent ardent love by this flower". With us, however, it symbolizes impatience.
I often wonder why this beautiful plant has fallen out of favor in recent years. It is one of the easiest flowers to grow, and children will be delighted by the bursting seed pods! It truly is a must for any old-fashioned flower garden.
So far, this winter has been the coldest and snowiest I've ever seen! (Last year was a close second.) Here's a picture I took of my greenhouse from the roof of one of our buildings where I was clearing off the snow. In a few weeks I'll be starting some seedlings. Since the greenhouse is unheated, I can only take the plants out on bright days and bring them all back before it gets dark. Looks like that is going to be a challenge this year...but I'm getting used to climbing mountains of snow, so it shouldn't be too bad!
I already have a few seedlings on the kitchen windowsill to tide me over until it's time to begin planting in earnest!
And I've been eagerly watching the growth of my Amaryllis. I don't think I've ever had two stems grow before, so this is a treat! The first flower opened yesterday.
It reminds me of a huge butterfly!
This isn't a good picture of the flower, but I like the striking contrast between it and the scene out the window!
I'm really looking forward to seeing what others have found to brighten their Monday morning at Rambling in the Garden. I know some of you are already seeing some spring blooms outside! :)
Valerian is a wonderful herb that I simply cannot be without! It has been used since at least the days of ancient Greece and Rome, so of course it is steeped in history. Mrs. Grieve says that "It is supposed to be the Phu (an expression of aversion from its offensive odour) of Dioscorides and Galen, by whome it was it was extolled as an aromatic and diuretic".
It was so highly esteemed during medieval times that it was given the name All-Heal. Another common name was Setewall or Setwall, as in these lines from Chaucer:
"There sprange up herbes great and small,
The liquorice and the setewall"
In his "Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes", Gerard writes that "it hath been had (and is to this day among the poore people of our Northerne parts) in such veneration amongst them, that no broths, pottage or physicall meats are worth anything, if Setwall were not at an end: whereupon some woman Poet or other hath made these verses.
They that will have their heale,
Must put Setwall in their keale."
Historically, it was used for for a wide variety of ailments including epilepsy, neuralgic pains, cramps, hysteria, nervous unrest, heart palpitaions, to strengthen eyesight, as a rememdy for cholera, and even to stop a fight! During both World Wars, it was used to help calm the nerves of civilians during air-raids, as well as for soldiers suffering from shell shock. And it is still in use now to relieve pain and anxiety, and to promote sleep.
Mrs. Grieve also says that "Valerian has an effect on the nervous system of many animals, especially cats, which seem to be thrown into a kind of intoxication by its scent". For this reason it is called Cat's Valerian, and it can actually be substituted for Catnip! According to Mrs. Grieve, "it is equally attractive to rats and is often used by rat catchers to bait their traps. It has been suggested that the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin owed his irresistable power over rats to the fact that he secreted Valerian roots about his person".
A more recent, but still old-fashioned name for Valerian is Garden Heliotrope, because the flowers have, as Louise Beebe Wilder writes, "the delicious fragrance of real Heliotrope". In "A Woman's Hardy Garden" (1903), Helena Rutherfurd Ely describes its scent as "a most delicious odour like vanilla", and George Ellwanger, in "The Garden's Story" (1889) writes, "The creamy trusses of the tall valerian are a hive of sweetness". Yet not everyone has such a favorable opinion. My sister insists that it smells like dirty socks, and thinks that Phu is a fitting name! Mrs. Grieve describes it as a somewhat peculiar, but not exactly unpleasant smell". In "Flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges & Ferns of Great Britain" (1899), Anne Pratt says, "To many of us, the powerful scent of Valerian is unpleasing; but this odour, still stronger in the roots, is much prized in the East, some of the most valued perfumes being made from the roots of various species". I think the fragrance is heavenly, and its comparison to Heliotrope is well-deserved! Perhaps the name Phu was given on account of the more powerful smell of the roots, which are the part used medicinally. (As for my dear sister's opinion, she is allergic to most fragrances and says that nearly all flowers "stink"!)
Interestingly, Valerian seems to have gone somewhat out of fashion in the early 20th century, at least in this country. In 1903, Mrs. Ely writes that it was "seen now-a-days only in old-fashioned gardens. I am told it cannot be bought of horticulturists". And Mrs. Wilder, writing in 1916, says that "It is so old-fashioned and out of fashion that it is not always easy to procure". Happily, many gardeners still appreciated its virtues and shared it with others who were less fortunate. Mrs. Ely says that she first obtained a single plant in this way, and "from this one plant there are now in the garden a number of large clumps several feet in diameter and I have given away certainly fifty roots". It is now offered by many seed companies who specialize in old-fashioned and heirloom flowers. And, to my surprise and delight, it has turned out to be the best selling of my seeds this year!
Valerian is a perennial hardy to zone 4, and is very easy to grow. In its first year, it develops a clump of very handsome leaves, and by early summer of the second year, to quote Mrs. Wilder again, "it bears a flat head of pinkish lacelike bloom at the end of its four feet of slender stem".
It is a lovely old herb "well worth having, for it lends a light grace to whatever part of the garden it occupies, and combines charminly with the other flowers of its day".
As I come to the end of this ramble, I get the feeling I've used way too many quotations! But the old garden writers describe their subjects so beautifully, I just couldn't resist using them all!
This morning my father looked out the window and saw a bald eagle soar over the field. I ran out with the camera, but the eagle was gone. He was quite surprised when I came back with these pictures instead! :D
Heliotrope is another much loved flower in my garden (it seems that I love them all and would be hard-pressed to choose a single favorite!). It is called Heliotrope because it follows the course of the sun. Mrs. Grieve says that "after opening it gradually turns from east to west and during the night turns again to the east to meet the rising sun". I confess I didn't observe it closely enough last summer to notice this characteristic, but I intend to watch it it much more diligently in the summer to come!
This sweet flower was discovered in the Peruvian Andes by the French botanist Joseph de Juissieu. The story of its discovery and introduction to Europe is told by G. Francis in "The Favorites of the Flower Garden" (published in 1844): "While botanizing one day in the Cordilleras he [Juissieu] suddenly found himself overpowered by an intoxicating perfume; he looked around, expecting to see some gaudy flower or other from which it proceeded, but could percieve nothing but some handsome bushes of a light green, the extremities of whose sprays were tipped with flowers of a faint blue color. He went up to these bushes, which were about 6 feet high, and saw that the flowers which they bore were all turned towards the sun. Struck with this peculiarity the learned botanist gave to the plant the name of Heliotrope, and collecting some of the seeds he sent them to the Royal Garden at Paris, where the Heliotrope was first cultivated in 1740. It has since spread to all the countries of Europe". Other sources give the year of its introduction to Europe as 1751 or 1757, but the date of its introduction to the US seems to be a mystery. Interestingly, in Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book there is a list of seeds and plants sent by Jefferson to Francis Eppes from Paris about 1786, while he was serving as Minister to France. On this list is "Heliotrope. to be sowed in the spring. a delicious flower, but I suspect it must be planted in boxes & kept in the house in the winter. the smell rewards the care". I certainly am no authority on the matter, but I wonder if perhaps Jefferson should recieve the credit for its introduction to this country?
Heliotrope was very popular in the Victorian era and was taken to represent devotion. It was one of Emily Dickenson's favorite flowers, and two heliotropes were put in her hands after her death "to take to Judge Lord".
It is also much beloved in its native land where, according to G. Francis, it "takes the place of the rose among us, as the emblem of all that is sweet and beautiful". And yet, he tells us, even the best of us have our enemies, and "the little Heliotrope, although accepted as a darling by the fair sex throughout the world (and who so well able as they to judge of beauty and merit) has met with its maligner, and been accounted with all its sweetness as but an emblem of self-interest,
There is a flower whose modest eye,
Is turned with looks of light and love,
Who breathes her softest, sweetest sigh,
When ere the sun is bright above.
Let clouds obscure, or darkness veil,
Her fond idolatry is fled!
Her sighs no more their sweets exhale,
The loving eye is cold and dead!
Canst thou not trace a moral here,
False flatterer of the prosperous hour,
Let but an adverse cloud appear,
And thou art faithless as the flower!"
Personally, I do not feel that the poor Heliotrope deserves this disparaging poem. The weather in my garden is far from being ideal for a native of Peru, and yet it grows and blooms the best it can, although it only manages to attain a height of 10 inches or so.
Heliotrope is another member of the Borage family (Boraginaceae). It is also called by the common names Turnsole (which has the same meaning as Heliotrope) and Cherry Pie Plant, because some think that the flowers smell exactly like cherries baked in a pie. Others describe its fragrance as vanilla or almond. Sadly, the scent is almost lost in many modern cultivars. Those with white flowers are often the most fragrant, but I haven't been able to find any seed, so I grow the dark purple Ognodowy, which has a pleasant fragrance, but only if you get close enough!
Historically, the whole plant was used in a tincture for clergyman's sore throat, but it is now considered to be poisonous. Also, the scent was once believed to help fight fatigue, and surely there is no harm in trying that!
Truly, the Heliotrope is another treasure and deserves to find a place in every garden!
On Tuesday, we got another 8 inches of snow, followed by at least a quarter inch of ice, and then about 4 inches of snow on top of that! Needless to say, it was a mess! Yesterday was windy so there was quite a bit of drifting, too. But we have finally dug ourselves out again, and this morning was so beautiful I decided to go for a walk (on snowshoes, of course!). The temperature was about 0F, and the ice on the trees made everything look magical!
This is a potato field behind our property...I often find moose and deer tracks out here, but not today!
All that's left of a 5 ft. fence...
I got a little carried away taking pictures of the trees with the sun shining on their icy branches!
Japanese Knotweed...it's invasive, but pretty, too. It looks very tropical in the summer.
There have been moments this winter when I felt like this goldenrod!
Some frozen mountain ash berries...
And as I get closer to home, there's my greenhouse...looks kinda like it's sitting in a styrofoam cooler!
Honeysuckle bush...this thing gets crushed almost every winter but it always bounces right back!
And there's my beloved flower garden slumbering under a thick blanket of snow!
I hope you enjoyed my morning ramble! :)
Recently, a friend asked me if I have any plans for a 16th or 17th century herb garden. Of course, that got me thinking; and the more I think about it the more excited I become! Actually, I have been puzzling all winter over where to grow all the herbs I want to have this year.
This circular garden with the birdbath is my herb garden now, but it is much too small. Many herbs look lovely in the flower garden, but I'd also like to give them a garden of their own.
If you've seen my rather messy flower gardens, you'll probably be shocked when I say that I am very much attracted to formal herbs gardens! But apparently I am not alone...I was just reading the chapter on herb gardens in Louise Beebe Wilder's book, "My Garden" where she writes that "however wild, or natural, or irregular we may care to be in our flower gardens, in the herb garden we have no precedent for being aught but prim and tidy and geometrical".
But alas, I have very little room left for my ever-expanding gardens! Perhaps the birdbath garden will have to do for the majority of the herbs right now. I think there is some room left to enlarge it yet.
I couldn't resist planting several Foxgloves, Sweet Williams, Stocks, Mignonettes and Heartsease among the herbs last year and although it was lovely, I sometimes felt that I had spoiled it as a true herb garden. Well, it is truly amazing how many plants that we often think of only as flowers could have a proper place in the herb garden also! Looking through Mrs. Grieve's "A Modern Herbal", I was surprised and delighted to come across so many favorites, such as the Forget-me-not, Love-lies-bleeding, Foxglove, Heartsease, Heliotrope, Muscari, Narcissus, Snapdragon, Peony, and so many, many others! Nearly every plant in my garden has been used for something and I am getting thrills as I write just thinking about all the history growing there! Hilda Leyel sums up my feelings exactly when she says, "Surely it makes a garden more romantic and wonderful to know that Wallflowers, Irises, Lupins, Delphiniums, Columbines, Dahlias and Chysanthemums, every flower in the garden from the first Snowdrop to the Christmas Rose, are not only there for man's pleasure but have their compassionate use in his pain".
So, if I can't have the grand formal herb garden just yet, maybe it is time to see my whole garden as an herb garden and a living history! What do you think?
"Hope's gentle gem, the sweet Forget-me-not"
I just love this little flower, so fragile in appearance, and yet so hardy! In fact, one of its many species, M. alpestris, is the state flower of Alaska! As Henry David Thoreau wrote, "It is the more beautiful for being small and unpretending; even flowers must be modest".
Its botanical name, Myosotis, is Greek for mouse's ears. I'm a little bit confused about whether this refers to the small wooly leaves, or the tiny petals. Either way, I think it is a charming and fitting name! There are over 70 species in this genus, and they are found in Europe, Asia, North America and New Zealand. Myosotis is a member of the Boraginaceae family, and is related to borage, heliotrope, and comfrey.
This flower seems to have been especially beloved in Germany, where it was called Vergissmeinnicht. I suppose almost everyone has heard some version of the German legend, which tells of a knight and his lady walking along the shore of the Danube River. She admires the tiny blue flowers growing at the water's edge. But when he goes to pick them for her, he is caught in the current and swept away. He tosses the flowers to her, calling out, "Vergiss mein nicht!".
Actually, there are many different legends about this flower and how it got its name. In another German legend, when God had given each plant and animal a name, He heard a small voice at His feet saying "what about me?". He bent down and picked up the little plant He had forgotten, and said “Because I forgot once, I shall never forget you again, and that shall be your name.”
Yet another is that when the Creator thought he had given every flower its color, He heard this one whisper, "Forget-me-not". There was only a tiny bit of blue left, but the humble Forget-me-not was delighted to wear it. Both of these legends bring to mind a lovely poem I read a couple years ago, and which I always think of when I see this flower...
When to the flowers so beautiful,
The Father gave a name,
Back came a little blue-eyed one,
(All timidly it came);
And standing at its Father's feet, And gazing in His face,
It said in low and trembling tones,
"Dear God, the name Thou gavest me,
Alas! I have forgot."
Then kindly looked the Father down,
And said, "Forget Me Not".
There is also a rather amusing theory that the leaves taste so bad, once you try them you will never forget! Anyway, it seems to be anybody's guess how it really got its name. It is certainly rich in history, and much loved since at least Medieval times. Henry of Lancaster (later Henry IV) took it as his personal emblem while in exile.
The forget-me-not is a biennial, but it self-sows so prolifically, you will never need to plant it again! It is one of the easiest flowers to grow. After just 2 years in my garden, it is already trying to take over the entire area! Not that I mind at all in the spring, but I am going to have to be careful how many I allow to go to seed next summer! The seeds can be scattered where they are to grow anytime during the summer. In his book, "The Cottage Garden and the Old-Fashioned Flowers", Roy Genders writes that "In England, it was found only in the cottage garden, hiding its beauty beneath other plants and where it enjoyed the moist, cool soil. It was not used as a late spring bedding plant to accompany the tulips until towards the end of the nineteenth century". In my opinion, its simple charm is at its best in the cottage garden.
It is so beautiful when seen from a distance in full bloom, and looks like a cool mist over the garden. But have you ever looked at them really closely? In "An Island Garden", Celia Thaxter writes, "If one gaze closely into a tiny flower of the pale blue Forget-me-not, what a chapter of loveliness is there! One sees at a glance the sweet color of the starry, compact cluster, and perhaps will notice that the delicate buds in their cherishing calyx are several shades of rose and lilac before the unclose, but unless one studies it closely, how shall one know that in most cases the himmel-blau petals are distinctly heart-shaped, that round its golden centre it wears a neck-lace of pearls...."
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little history ramble! I am having so much fun learning more about the history and stories nehind the flowers that grow in my garden!
Hesperis Matronalis is known by many charming common names, including Sweet Rocket, Evening Dame's Rocket, Night-scented Gilliflower, Dame's Gilliflower, Queen's Gilliflower, Rogues' Gilliflower, Damask Violet, Mother-of-the-evening, Vesper-flower, and Summer Lilac. The famous English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), calls it Scentless Eveweed, but writes that "the gardeners, not very nice or careful about names, call it Striped or Double Rocket".
Hesperis is a Greek word, meaning Evening, and Matronalis is Latin and means "of the mother, or "of the married woman". In "A Modern Herbal", Maud Grieve (1858-1929) says that "In the language of flowers, the Rocket has been taken to represent deceit, since it gives out a lovely perfume in the evening, but in the daytime has none. Hence its name Hesperis, or Vesper-Flower, given it by the Ancients". Its association with deceit is likely also why it was called Eveweed.
Louise Beebe Wilder gives a beautiful description of this flower in her book, "My Garden" (published in 1916): "Hesperis Matronalis has starlike flowers, white, or in shades of pale purple and violet, and gives forth to the night a most delicious fragrance which it quite withholds from the day."
According to Mrs. Grieve, it is a "native of Italy, but found throughout most of Central and Mediterranean Europe, and in Britain and Russian Asia as escapes from gardens".
It arrived in North America in the 17th century, and has naturalized from Newfoundland to Georgia. In some states, it is even considered invasive. It does self-sow prolifically. There is a beautiful garden a few miles from us that is full of Sweet Rocket every May and June, and it also blooms in an old field across the road from that garden. It is such a pretty flower, though, I can't see why anyone would mind! Louise Beebe Wilder writes that "perhaps it is a bit too free a seeder to be admitted to very choice gardens, but treated as bienniels, the old plants, which grow lax and straggling, pulled out and thrown away and only a few of the many seedlings retained, it may be enjoyed with safety".
Hesperis Matronalis is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which makes it a relative of cabbage, broccoli, mustard, cauliflower, kale, radishes, turnips, etc. I found this interesting, because I noticed last year how much the flowers and seedpods resemble those of broccoli and radishes!
The leaves are rich in Vitamin C and have been used to prevent scurvy. However, Mrs. Grieve warns that "a strong dose will cause vomiting". Nicholas Culpeper says that "it is accounted a good wound-herb", and also mentions that "some eat it with bread and butter on account of its taste, which resembles garlick". The seeds have also been mixed with vinegar and uses as a cure for freckles!
I am looking forward to seeing this lovely flower in my garden again next spring. Now I am wondering which of its pretty names to call it by! Which is your favorite?
I am a passionate gardener and seed-saver, who also enjoys playing the violin and accordion, running, spending time with my 4 golden retrievers, keeping chickens, photography, and reading.