Archive for the ‘Martha Barnette’ Category

Here’s another floral gem of a book about flowers and their names and uses, Shakespeare’s Flowers by ShakespearesFlowersJessica Kerr and illustrated by Anne Ophelia Donden. Let’s recap for a second, though. We have Who Named the Daisy, Who Named the Rose by Mary Durant and A Garden of Words by Martha Barnette.

Kerr, an expert of flowers in Elizabethan England, picks a dozen or two flowers, prints excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and explains what it means, what the flowers were used for and how they might have made their ways into English gardens. As you can see from the illustrations shown here, they are marvelous.

ShakespearesFlowers1For instance, did you know that the rose, shown here, was mentioned in Two Noble Kinsmen, Love’s Labors Lost, The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet as well as Romeo and Juliet? As a matter of fact, Shakespeare mentions it 70 times in his plays and sonnets. It is so beloved that it never had another name? And the dew from rose petals was used  in making costly cosmetics. And of course, the rose is symbolic of the 32 year War of the Roses.

Kerr covers the well known flowers such as daisies, ShakespearesFlowers2violets, and marigolds and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and spearmint. She also picks less common ones, such as rue. She even discusses weeds. When you rue something you regret it or want to repent. This is associated with bitterness and rue has a bitter, sour flavor. Herbs such as rosemary and rue are still carried in the processions of the Lord Mayor of London, a carryback to when it was thought of as a preventative against the plague and “…a little nosegay of rue is placed beside a judge in court to this day.”

I find it fascinating how flowers and herbs all had medicinal value ‘in the old days’ and sometimes I wonder how much better off we really are with big pharmaceuticals. It is amazing the traditions and rituals that arose from the belief in the medical, spiritual and superstitious powers of flowers.

To close this, if you are at all interested in flowers and the etymology of their names, Shakespeare’s Flowers would be a welcome addition to your library.


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WhoNamedTheDaisyAGardenOfWordsI came to read Who Named the Daisy? by Mary Durant because it was referenced in the book A Garden of Words by Martha Barnette.

In my reivew of A Garden of Words, I said “Words is a treasure chest of information. Barnette starts with the flower and the derivation of its name, many times trying to relate it to its Indo-European root…But if a flower’s name is a combination of words she takes both parts and expands them into many languages, including English. She comes up with many colorful words that have faded from our vocabulary. She discusses the derivation of everyday words, always relating it back to the flower of its origin. Barnette includes poems, mythology, culture and more in this slim volume. There is a drawing of each flower discussed.” I also mention the word ‘titilating’ in the review.

Who Named the Daisy is the opposite. It is more serious, describing the origin of the name and the opinions of botanists of yore such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Peter Kalm (Travels into North America 1748-1751), Alice Morse Earle (Old Time Gardens 1901) and Mary Elizabeth Parsons (Wild Flowers of California 1900). Durant describes medicinal uses of these plants dating back to the 1600s. It is amazing that the majority of plants are believed to have healing powers either by ingestion or as a poltice. I wonder whether we are missing the boat in our hi-tech medical age and we should be exploring natural healing techniques.

On the lighter side, Durant quotes William Byrd’s 1728 Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina, in which he says about Ginseng, “…I used to chew a Root of Ginseng as I walk’t along. This kept up my Spirits, and made me trip away as nimbly in my Jack-Boots as younger men could in their Shoes…Its virtues are, that it gives an uncommon Warmth and Vigour to the Blood, and frisks the Spirits. It chears the Heart even of a Man that has a bad Wife.”

And in this holiday season, it’s nice to know that Mistletoe derives from the Anglo-Saxon words meaning “little dung twig” “…becasue of the part birds play in propogating this parasitic plant, eating the berries in one place and excreting them in another.” Just makes you want to grab a kiss under the mistletoe, huh!

Who Named the Daisy covers many more flowers than A Garden of Words and I was smart. I consulted my Audubon Field Guide to North American Wildflowers to see what these flowers look like. Some are gorgeous and it was worth the effort.

In conclusion, I think both books are essential in a gardener’s library…A Garden of Words is the more ‘playful’ of the two books and Who Named the Daisy gives a more realistic/historical perspective. So, fertilize your mind with these botanic beauties.

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