Sunflowers must mean Summer!

Sunflowers. They’re spectacular, summery, and yellower than yellow. 

The sunflower, with its tall stem and big, sunny face, is probably one of the most recognised flowers in the world. In fact, let’s be honest, no flower is more famous than the sunflower. It’s the Kim Kardashian of the flower world. They have been used as a symbol for gods, of summer, and of various environmental movements. Though native to the Americas, the seeds of the sunflower have spread around the world and planted themselves in the soil and hearts of many countries. It’s prized not only for its friendly beauty but because just about every part of the sunflower can be used for something.

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A brief history of sunflowers

Helianthus is the name of the plant’s genus. It translates perfectly literally from the Greek helios means ‘sun’ and Anthos means ‘flower’ and also because the glorious yellow heads resemble the sun (true), or because of the widespread belief that the blooming heads turn to follow the sun as it tracks across the sky (false, sadly – they face east).

There are in fact over 70 species of helianthus in the family Asteraceae, all native to America. The common sunflower helianthus annus was first brought to Europe in the 16th century, and the seeds and oil have been popular cooking ingredients ever since.

More importantly, of course, sunflowers are beautiful and for hundreds of years have generally made our greyish, rainy island a sunnier place. Not to mention a pretty big muse for old Van Gogh.

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Native Americans

Sunflowers were one of the important crops grown in Native American gardens. Some people call sunflowers the “fourth sister,” in reference to the Three Sisters corn, bean, and squash. Sunflower seeds were an important food crop and source of oil for cooking and cosmetics, and different sunflower varieties were cultivated to produce purple and yellow dyes. Sunflower oil was also believed to treat skin ailments, and sunflowers had a variety of medicinal uses in different tribes. Some Native American people also saw sunflowers as a symbol of courage, so that warriors would carry sunflower cakes to battle with them or a hunter would sprinkle sunflower powder on his clothing to keep his spirit up.

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The Language of Flowers

Victorians thought the sunflower signified a bit of pride, possibly because the taller varieties loom over most other flowers. They also thought that, in the language of flowers,  sunflowers symbolised appreciation and gratitude. So when you get your box next week, think of it as me thanking you for being such lovely customers.

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Van Gogh

The Sunflowers is one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery. It is the painting that is most often seen on cards, posters, mugs, tea-towels and stationery. It was also the picture that Van Gogh was most proud of. If you’re feeling as sunflowery as I am this week why not go down to the National Gallery and marvel at his wonderful picture!

So there you have it. Sunflowers are not only wonderful to have in your home but also the most versatile flower out there! Just don’t get the urge to chop off your ear when looking at them.

Sweet William(s)

Oh sweet, sweet william

To prepare you for one of my favourite flowers featuring in my boxes soon I thought I would tell you a little bit about them first. They really are as lovely as their name and last a long old time too. The exact origin of its common English name is unknown but it first appeared in 1596 in botanist John Gerad’s garden catalogue. Starting the long discussion of who they are named after!

A close up of sweet williams from our box
Sweet William from our box

Who is this is William and is he actually as sweet as the rumours?

There are many possibilities of who ‘sweet william’ took its name from. One is that the flower is called sweet william after Gerad’s contemporary William Shakespeare.

Another idea is that they are named after the 18thC Prince William, Duke of Cumberland to honour the Duke’s victory at the Battle of Culloden and his general brutal treatment of the king’s enemies.

A portrait of Prince William, Duke of Cumberland
Not so sweet William – Duke of Cumberland @wordpress.com

Now if you ask me, I think that they are named after the Duke. Why? Well i’ll tell you why. The Battle of Culloden was a battle in Scotland between the Duke, son of George II and Charles Edward Stewart, The Young Pretender. On the Young Pretenders side were the Scots. The Scots were on the losing side and their name for the flower ‘sweet william’ is ‘stinking billy’. Probably after the Prince who trounced them in the Battle. To me that makes more sense!

Our own sweet Williams

The Victorians with their love of the language of flowers, Sweet Williams signified gallantry. And we have a few favourite William’s of our own.

  • At the wedding of our Prince William and Kate Middleton, Kate had sweet williams in her wedding bouquet to symbolise her love for her bridegroom. Good choice Kate!
Kate Middleton's bouquet with sweet williams in.
Sweet Williams for her William
Etching of William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce @regencyhistory
  • William Wilberforce was a pretty sweet William indeed. He was the leader of the movement to stop the slave trade which led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire. Well done Will, you sweet man!
A picture of shakespeare surrounded by words
The man of many talents, William Shakespeare @woolf.cam.ac.uk

Playwright, poet, botanist and all round genius!

Who would we be if we didn’t mention the most famous sweet William of them all? Apparently, Shakespeare was not content with just being the greatest playwright ever in the English language but he was also an expert amateur botanist. With a deep knowledge of homegrown and exotic plants showing in his work.

”Shakespeare’s botanical references are not mere literary devices; they take us to the very heart of social life in Elizabethan and Jacobean England” Mary Willes

According to Mary Willes (Author of ‘A Shakespearean Botanical’), Shakespeare mentions 49 specific flowers, veg, fruit and herbs in his plays.

What is so genius about old Will is that he used his botanical knowledge to perfectly describe his characters. For example – he describes Falstaff (an overweight Knight in The Merry Wives of Windsor) as a ‘gross, watery pumpkin’. Have that Falstaff!

 

Wonderful William

We hope you enjoyed the sweet williams as much as we have and have a think of all the wonderful William’s in your life!

Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.
The Winter’s Tale (4.4.122-7)

If you’d like to turn your home into the best flowery spot, why not sign up and have some Freddie’s Flowers delivered to your place? It’s only £24 a pop and I think you’ll be quite delighted.