"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!
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. I also blog for Heirloom Gardener.