Guest Author - Nicola Jane Soen
Many people have a fixed view of England’s flowers; either cottage gardens, beautiful in their riotous colour; or corn fields with their vivid wild cornflowers and poppies waving on the summer breeze. These pictures are right. Although Britain is changing and the more foreign exotic imports are now taking precedent in England’s gardens. Palms, Ponga trees and bananas often grace the gardens of England now.
However for some of us the proper English flowers are some of the most beautiful flowers in the world and we love these above all others. Some of these have graced our gardens for hundreds of years. Masterwort for example is the oldest of English flowers, Green with pale pinkish edge it is not exactly popular by far, but those who want a TRUE English flower would not hesitate to have a patch of this understated beauty. Typically it has now been modernised by English growers and more vivid colours are now available.
Hollyhocks are another classically English cottage garden flower. Huge spikes of single and now double bloom flowers climbing up the spike of the plant like a church in pale yellow, pink, white or even dark purple, nearly black. When the sun hits the purple one it is spectacular. Delphiniums also tall but of luminous blue with a black stamen or white are royal to look at. They are also grown in pink and white.
Campanulas, either big or tiny are typical. Tiny bells of purple hanging over rocky cottage walls are typical scenes of olde worlde England. In contrast to that huge ‘cup and saucer’ campanulas with spikes of flowers that rival the delphinium for their beauty.
Field and beach flowers like Vipers bugloss, poppy and sweet scabious vie for attention from the bees and can also be grown in the humblest of gardens and look breathtaking in their simplicity. Foxgloves (Digitalis in the Latin) with their hood flowers and spotted throats, a most attractive sight for bees, are also a typically English flower.
Although there was a rose in England in the Middle Ages; it was the humble dog rose. But its significance was huge. The Rose was a royal symbol of the houses of Lancaster and Tudor, and the battle for the throne of England was called the war of the roses. However a more spectacular Musk rose was first introduced into England around the reign of Henry VIII, apparently by one of Henry’s Friends and dedicated to his first wife Catherine of Aragorn. It was the ‘Rosa Moschata’ and originated in the gardens of the Middle East.
From there the rest is history, as they say. The English took it so much to heart that another English meaning was coined for ‘English Rose’, now meaning true English beauty.
Of course one must not forger to mention flowers that although they do not always appear in the garden do appear on lanes and green sites and are as English as the hollyhock or poppy. Spring welcomes England with its snowdrops, primroses and bluebells bursting into flower, along with daffodils’. The daffodil is another classic English plant that used to have the more romantic name of daffadowndillies, but was shortened, sadly I feel. Sweet William is another flower of the English, which was named after HRH the Duke of Cumberland, William Augustus (1721-1765) second son of George II. It was named in his honour after the battle of Cullcuden, for which he also earned the nickname ‘Butcher’ Cumberland because of the carnage he wreaked. Understandably the Scottish, have their own name for the flower, called Stinking Billy, which shows how they felt about Williams so called sweet English behaviour.
Other English flowers were not grown for their showy looks. For example some Victorian flowers were grown for their smell rather than looks, Mignonette and cherry pie smell heavenly. Although mignonette is very unpopular now, I can honestly say if you grow some, although the flowers are insignificant its fragrance is like that of heaven. The Victorians also loved ferns and regimented gardens.
These are just a few of our flora, some with sad and painful history, others neglected and some highly prized by growers. All of them are classically English and are what makes England unique. Long may they continue to grace England’s gardens and countryside.