If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I am very passionate about old-fashioned flowers! Besides their loveliness and fragrance, which modern hybrids cannot equal, they are so rich in history.
I recently started reading "The Gardener's Atlas" by Dr. John Grimshaw, and am finding it very fascinating. Yesterday, while looking for something to keep my mind off the intense cold we've been enduring, I actually hit upon what I think was a brilliant idea! Why not make a list of all the flowers and herbs grown in my garden and research their origins and histories? With almost sixty different kinds, that ought to keep me well occupied until Spring! I will randomly pick a flower from the list, and share what I learn here on my blog for now. Eventually, I may start a new page here on my website just for these plant histories, so I (and anyone else) can find them easily.
The Sweet William, or Poet's Pink ("Oeillet de Poeteit" in French) is one of the most chersihed flowers in my garden. It is native to the mountains of southern Europe, from the Pyrenees east to the Carpathians and the Balkans, and is believed to have been cultivated by monks as early as the 12th century. It was planted in the gardens of Henry VIII's palace of Hampton Court in 1533.
The first to mention D. barbatus was Dr. Rembertus Dodeons, physician to Emepror charles V of Germany, who published his New Herball, or Historie of Plants" in 1554.
The origin of its English name is unclear. The botanist John Gerard (1545-1612) was the first to refer to it as Sweet William. Perhaps he called it after his contemporary, william Shakespeare. Some think it may have originally been called Sweet St. William, to commemorate St. William of Aquitaine, while yet another possibility is that it was named for William of Normandy, although this seems unlikely.
Gerard speaks of it as a common flower. He writes that "these plants are not used either in mete or medicine but esteemed for their beauty, to deck up gardens and the bosoms of the beautiful".
Thomas Jefferson noted when the Sweet Williams began to open in april 1767 at Shadwell, his boyhood home. He also reported flowers in May and June 1782 at Monticello. In 1807, he planted Sweet William in one of the newly-made Oval Beds, but that November, his grandaughter, Ann Cary Randolph, informs him that "the pinks Carnation's Sweet Williams Yellow horned Poppy Ixia Jeffersonia everlasting Pea Lavatera Columian Lilly Lobelia Lychnis double blossomed Poppy & Physalis failed, indeed none of the seeds which you got from Mr. McMahon came up".
Sweet William is a biennial or short-lived perennial and is very easy to grow from seed, flowering the second year after planting. It self-sows readily, but has never become a nuisance in my garden.
For some reason I have always associated it with herbs. Maybe it's just because it combines nicely with many herbs in the garden. I think read somewhere that it may have some medicinal qualities as well, but don't quote me on that! It is considered an edible flower.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this little history as much as I enjoyed putting it together! There will be many more to come...the only difficulty is in making up my mind which flower I want to research next!
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.