Floral notes: Why some wines taste of flowers, and how to detect them

Ever wondered why wine experts are always detecting rose petals or elderflowers? There’s a science to it – and you can learn the tricks too….

Ever wondered why wine experts are always detecting floral notes in wine such as rose petals or elderflowers in their Sauvignon Blancs? Well there is a science behind it, and you can learn the tricks too. Top wine writer Henry Jeffreys explains…

Like most people of my generation, my first experience with the strange world of wine tasting was watching Jilly Goolden and Oz Clarke on Food & Drink on BBC 2.

It was the highlight of an otherwise rather worthy programme to see the delight Goolden and Clarke took in outdoing each other with elaborate wine comparisons. Jilly usually won with something like “old gyms shoes strewn with rose petals.” As a child I assumed that they were a sort of comedy turn, making stuff up as they went along.

But the truth is that they really do know their stuff. Certainly Oz Clarke is one of the most astounding tasters out there. The Daily Mail once put on a blind tasting where professionals tried to tell cheap wines from expensive. Some in the test couldn’t, but Clarke got them all right. He even managed to deduce the exact Chateau and vintage of the better wines.

Jilly and Oz (Image credit.)
Jilly and Oz in their heyday (Image credit.)

 

And those outlandish descriptions beloved by Goolden and Clarke weren’t metaphors. They weren’t as the American writer Adam Gopnik said “a series of elaborately plausible compliments paid to wines” – rather, they described something that was actually there.

When Goolden said “Hmmm… summer lawns in the Home Counties” when smelling a Sauvignon Blanc she was referring to organic compounds present in some wines called pyrazines which provide a characteristically grassy taste. You don’t just get them in Sauvignon Blanc but also in slightly under-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. This flavour in small quantities is an important part of the characteristic flavour of traditional claret.

 

How to spot floral notes in wine

Floral notes in wine are provided by a variety of compounds such as monoterpenes. One such is rose oxide (chemical formula for those interested C10H18O), which occurs in the Alsace grape Gewurztraminer and provides that characteristic heady rose petal flavour. Some Alsace tastings can be like wandering into the Sicilian garden from Lampedusa’s great novel The Leopard:

“. . . . the carnations superimposed their pungence on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and the jammy one of myrtle; from a grove beyond the wall came an erotic waft of early orange blossom.”

Ahh, just like when the Freddie’s Flowers man arrives!

Syrah especially from the Northern Rhone has a floral scent reminiscent of lavender that comes from a compound called linalool, a type of terpene alcohol which also occurs in cannabis. In fact this compound can become particularly pungent in California. Syrahs from Sonoma often smell sweetly of weed.

If you think I’m talking nonsense, try a bottle of Muscat, probably the most floral of all varieties. You cannot miss that scent of orange blossom.

Once you start detecting floral notes in wine you start to notice them all over the place. Bordeaux especially from Margaux is often floral. Grenache and Chardonnay sometimes have a scent of wild flowers.

It’s often a good way of guessing where a wine is from: wines from Greece and Turkey often have a heady almost Turkish delight type quality. English wines especially those made from Bacchus smell of elderflowers. Riesling from the Mosel smells of apple blossom, Nebbiolo from Piedmont smells of rose petals and tar.

When people first get into wine, they tend to look for fruit, but flowers and herbs are often a more enlightening way to think about wine. So don’t be afraid, next time you open a good bottle of wine take a deep breath and channel your inner Jilly.

Floral notes in wine and flowers too!

 


 

Six wines to sniff out:

 

Lavender: Syrah Jaboulet £8.49 – Majestic as part of a mixed case

Made by one of the top producers in the Northern Rhone but from fruit grown further south, yet it does have that characteristically Northern Syrah floral note.

 

Violets: Fleurie Bouchard Pere et Fils 2015 – Waitrose £11.99

Some wines sell on their flowery connotations. One such is the aptly named Fleurie from the Beaujolais region. It’s made from Gamay grape and offers ripe summer pudding flavours.

 

Rose petal: Dopff & Irion Gewurztraminer La cuvée Rene Dopff 2014 – Slurp £10.95

Gewurztraminer is the most distinctive grape variety in the world. Floral notes in wine can be a little too strong, like flowers that have been kept too long, but this is fresh and well-balanced.

 

Apple blossom: Loimer Riesling Lenz 2014 – Buon Vino  £13.50

This wine is drier and fuller bodied than you’d get from a Riesling from the Mosel in Germany yet it still has that intoxicating scent of apple blossom.

 

Honeysuckle: Domaine du Biguet St. Péray ‘Nature’ 2014 – Yapp Bros £18.10

An unusual wine, a sparkler made in the Northern Rhone from a grape variety called Marsanne. This has a rich texture with notes of hazelnut and lemon rind alongside those floral aromas.

 

Orange blossom: Muscat Beaume de Venise 2009 Domaine des Coyeux – Corney & Barrow £9.75 half bottle

Another one from the South of France, a gentle sweet fruity wine with a distinct orange blossom taste that would be lovely with goat’s cheese.

 


 

Henry Jeffreys writes about drink, books and popular culture in The Spectator, The Guardian, The Oldie, The Lady and many other publications.  He is the author of ‘Empire of Booze’  – a history of Britain told through alcoholic drinks. 

 

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The Art of Flowers: A Floral Tour of the National Gallery

There are countless ways to enjoy London’s magnificent National Gallery. Here’s how a flower-lover could take a tour…

There are countless ways to enjoy London’s magnificent National Gallery. Here’s how a flower-lover could take a tour…

By Nigel Andrew

 

Having found the National Gallery’s Dutch Flowers exhibition such an eye-opener, I thought I’d go and see what other pictures the gallery has on show that flower-lovers might enjoy.  Here are some of the floral highlights…

 

Still life and symbolism

Flower painting as such – painting flowers for their own sake – didn’t really get under way until the Dutch took it up in the 17th century. Before that, flowers feature mostly as decorative background features or, in religious paintings, as bearers of symbolic meanings. But there were religious artists who painted flowers with evident enjoyment and who were clearly seeing them as more than mere symbols.
Virgin and Child
The Virgin and Child in a Garden (1469-91) – Style of Martin Schongauer. Image credit.

 

A fine example of this is The Virgin and Child in a Garden (Room 65) in the style of Martin Schongauer, a German artist of the generation before Dürer. That iris is symbolic of the Virgin’s grief, and carnations, it was believed, first sprang up where Mary’s tears struck the earth.

That’s as may be, but Schongauer presents us with real flowers, only very slightly stylised – and those wild strawberries and lilies of the valley bordering the garden path are just lovely.

 

A Cup of Water and a Rose *oil on canvas *21.2 x 30.1 cm *about 1630
A Cup of Water and a Rose on a Silver Plate (c.1630) –  Francisco Zurbarán. Image credit.

 

There might be an element of religious symbolism in Francisco Zurbarán’s A Cup of Water and a Rose (Room 30) – this 17th-century Spanish artist is mostly known for his sombre religious paintings – but it can be enjoyed simply as a superb piece of still life painting. An earthenware cup, a silver plate, a pink rose, its petals just beginning to curve back – each element is painted with intensely focused care and attention.

The fall of light across the scene – on the surface of the water, on the lustrous silver, on the inside of the cup – and the reflections of the rose and the cup on the edge of the tray are exquisitely rendered.  Look at the shaded side of the cup where it is outlined against the gleaming inner rim of the tray – that is great painting.

 

'Fruit_and_Flowers_in_a_Terracotta_Vase'_by_Jan_van_Os,_1777-8
Fruit and Flowers in a Terracotta Vase (1777-8) – Jan Van Os. Image credit.

 

As a reminder of how long-lived was the Dutch ascendancy in flower painting, here is Jan Van Os’s Fruit and Flowers in a Terracotta Vase from 1777-8 (these pictures were often painted over several months, to capture each species at its peak).

By this stage, Dutch flower painting was a century past its golden age and its practitioners were turning out ever more extravagant virtuoso pieces that were highly decorative but had long since taken leave of any possible arrangement of flowers in the real world (how on earth did that pineapple get there?).

This picture by Van Os is typical, painted with the utmost naturalistic skill, inviting the viewer to take a close look and gasp (the bloom on those grapes, that bird’s nest, that mouse nibbling on a walnut). It’s bright and light, it’s pretty, everything is on the surface – it’s closer to interior design than to art.

 

Van Gogh to Gaughin

It was in the mid-nineteenth century and on into the early twentieth that flower painting was revived and perhaps reached its peak. The astonishing sunflower paintings of Vincent van Gogh showed that it was possible for a flower painting to soar into the artistic stratosphere, achieving the kind of truly iconic status previously reserved for the likes of the Mona Lisa. Not bad for a series of canvases intended only to brighten up Gauguin’s room in the Arles house he briefly shared with van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853 - 1890 Sunflowers 1888 Oil on canvas, 92.1 x 73 cm Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1924 NG3863 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG3863
Sunflowers (1888) – Vincent van Gogh. Image credit.

 

The National Gallery’s painting, titled simply Sunflowers (Room 43), was the fourth in the series and depicts fourteen flowers, some in full bloom, some wilting, others halfway to becoming seed heads. Painted with tremendous verve and built up in thick, loose brushstrokes, it’s a beautifully balanced, dazzling – almost literally – work that captures the essence of the sunflower and the sunny South. You could warm your hands on its radiance. No wonder it is one of the National’s most popular pictures.

 

a-basket-of-roses-henri-fantin-latour
A Basket of Roses (1890) – Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour. Image credit.

 

A flower painter with a more conventional approach was Henri Fantin-Latour, whose still life works were at least as popular in Britain – where he was championed by Whistler – as in France. A Basket of Roses (Room A: Paintings after 1600) is a gorgeous example of his flower paintings, and was snapped up by an English collector in the 1890s.

Fantin-Latour was essentially conservative in his approach to art and never identified with the Impressionists, but the free handling of paint in rendering these artfully strewn roses is not that far from Impressionism. (Fans of the band New Order will recognise this painting from the cover of the album Power, Corruption & Lies.)

 

gauguin
A Vase of Flowers (1896) – Paul Gauguin. Image credit.

 

Paul Gauguin – for whom Van Gogh painted all those sunflowers – is not best known for his flower paintings, but he produced some good work in that line in the course of his prolific career. The National Gallery has a very fine – and unusual – example, A Vase of Flowers (Room 43). This was painted soon after Gauguin’s final move from France to Tahiti, and the flowers are all tropical blooms. Oddly they are in the French national colours – blue, white and red – though that’s unlikely to be a case of unconscious nostalgia for his homeland.

It’s a beautifully composed picture, the colours and shapes perfectly balanced, the muted colours of the background and of the vase setting off the bright exotic flowers. It was sold in 1898 to Degas, an early admirer of Gauguin, and himself a fine flower painter.

 

Wild flower impressions

Now for some wild flowers. Edouard Vuillard’s The Mantelpiece (Room 42) shows a rather sumptuous interior (a room in a rented château in Normandy) cluttered with artists’ impedimenta – bottles, unframed pictures, painting rags hung to dry. On the sharply foreshortened mantelpiece, brightening and enlivening the whole scene, stands a vase (or is it just a glass?) of wild flowers – dog daisies, cow parsley, bugloss, hawkweed, a poppy, a spray of bramble, everyday flowers artlessly arranged. Their informal beauty steals the show.

Edouard Vuillard The Mantelpiece
The Mantelpiece (La Cheminée) – Edouard Vuillard (1905). Image credit.

 

And finally, the ever popular Claude Monet. Irises (Room 41) is a painting that evolved over several years (1914-17), probably alongside the artist’s gigantic murals showing the play of light on the lily pond in his garden at Giverny. Irises shows a view from above – perhaps from the famous Japanese bridge – of a winding path beside the pond, bordered with irises. Thick paint – blue, green and purple – is freely, even crudely applied, but it achieves its effect.

It’s a pity the National doesn’t have one of van Gogh’s many iris paintings for purposes of comparison. But we can always go back to the beginning, to Schongauer’s Virgin and Child in a Garden, and there it is again – the iris.

monet irises
Irises (about 1914-17) – Claude Monet. Image credit.

 

 

A note on images – we have illustrated this post with images in the public domain and available to use under the Creative Commons license. We have also made a donation to the National Gallery via Justgiving to help them continue their magnificent work!

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How do you drink your flowers? A guide to floral teas and tisanes

There’s more than one way to drink a cuppa. Jassy Davis explains how to make your own flower teas, known as tisanes…

There’s more than one way to drink a cuppa – and in the depths of winter a sweet-scented flower tea can bring back the sunshine. Food writer Jassy Davis explains how to make your own floral tisanes…

Forget potpourri. The best thing to do with dried flowers is drink them.  Tisanes – herbal infusions – have been warming cockles for thousands of years.

The idea isn’t that strange to us: a pot of mint tea after dinner, chamomile tea before bed. These infusions have stayed with us, while we ditched other more outlandish tisanes in favour of cups of good, strong black tea. But at this time of year, when the weather is grey and the days are dark, floral tisanes can breathe a bit of summer warmth back into our lives. And with flower beds being a bit sparse, a stock of dried edible flowers are perfect for brewing up with.

Dried Flowers Overhead

 

How to make a Tisane

The general rule is to use one heaped tablespoon of dried flowers for every 250ml water. Don’t use boiling water. The ideal temperature is around 80°C, so stop your kettle before it boils. Steep teas for three to five minutes before straining into a cup.

Important health and safety note: before you start brewing up, remember to only make teas with edible grade dried flowers, preferably organic. As tisanes have historically been used as herbal remedies, it’s best to check they won’t interfere with any medicines you’re taking or have an impact on any conditions you may have.

 

Jasmine

Jasmine 2

Jasmine tea normally means green, white or black tea scented with jasmine flowers, which has been prepared in China for thousands of years. A tisane of dried jasmine flowers is mellow and aromatic, less scented than an infusion made with the fresh flowers would be. Try combining jasmine with rose petals or a strip of fresh lemon or orange zest for extra fragrance.

 

Rose

Rose 1

Everyone who has had a piece of Turkish delight knows what rose tea tastes like. Fresh, dried or distilled into rosewater, rose always delivers that full, summer garden in bloom flavour.

Traditionally rose tea is drunk to help relieve menstrual cramps, and it’s also thought to be good for sore throats, digestion and stress. Rose is brilliant for scenting black tea. Try steeping a combination of dried rose petals, black tea and lightly crushed cardamom pods and serving it with a slice of lemon.

 

Lavender

Lavender 2

A love-it-or-loathe-it tisane. Lavender is a flavour that doesn’t give up. Dried or fresh, that heady, bee-and-butterfly-luring scent is just as strong. For some people, it’s too much like soap. But for lavender lovers, a cup of pale blue lavender tea is perfume heaven.

Lavender is always associated with sleep, which makes lavender the perfect night-time tisane. Combine it with chamomile blooms for extra snooziness. It’s also said to be good for digestion, so try it after a meal instead of mint tea (or mix a spoonful of dried lavender in with the mint sprigs).

 

Elderflower

Elderflowers 2

The powdery smell of lacey elderflowers is the scent of spring. Elderflower tisanes capture that delicate, fruity fragrance. It’s naturally sweet and won’t become bitter if it’s left to stand, so you can confidently make a pot knowing the last cup will taste as good as the first (although be warned, it’s thought to be a diuretic, so perhaps don’t drink gallons of it).

Elderflower teas have historically been used to treat coughs and cold. Add a slice of lemon, a chunk of ginger and a dash of honey for a soothing drink when you need a little relief from a scratchy throat and runny nose.

 

Hops

Hops flowers 2

Hop flower tisanes have a green note to them, redolent of thick stems of field rhubarb or orange skin. A rich, juicy bitterness that increases the longer you brew the tea for. Hops have long been used as a sedative and this tea is best kept for bedtimes. Try adding a strip of orange zest to round out the flavour, and honey to take the edge off the bitterness.

 

Calendula

Marigolds 1jpg

More commonly known as marigold, calendula petals have a peppery, tangy flavour that translates into a savoury tisane with a hint of spice and sourness. Thought to be good for digestion, cramps and menstrual pain, this sunshine yellow tea makes a great afternoon pick-me-up.

 

Freddie’s Flowers sends you delicious arrangements every week – though we recommend that you mostly just sit and look at our flowers rather than drink them.  Sign up for a delivery box of amazing flowers for just £24 a pop here. 

Flowers in a cup 1

 

Jassy Davis is a writer and food blogger. Check out her wonderful Gin and Crumpets website here.

 

Walking in a Winter Flowerland – 5 top Christmas outings for flowerheads

If you’re after festive activities while still getting your flower fix this Christmas, here are our top picks…

Your days between now and Christmas are probably rammed with all sorts of fun stuff – but if you have a window to fill and you’re after festive activities while still getting your flower fix, here are our top picks…

 

1. The RHS London Christmas Show

MAR0029774
Image credit.

The RHS are the dons of the horticultural show and their Christmas event this weekend (17 and 18 December) at RHS Lawrence Hall is full of festive foliage fun. Go for last minute Christmas shopping as well as food and crafts. More information and tickets here.

 

2. Christmas at Kew

kew gardens christmas
Image credit.

Who doesn’t love Kew, eh? Magical at any time of the year, at Christmas they open in the evenings for a wondrous walk through their illuminated, enchanting gardens. Includes a scented fire garden – which sounds better than mulled wine with an added slug of brandy.

Expect to leave feeling wowed and rosy cheeked! Tickets and info here.

 

3. Flowerful breakfast with Father Christmas at Clifton Nurseries

father xmas clifton
Image credit.

If your little angel has been really very good this year, a regular Santa’s Grotto might not cut the proverbial. So let them break their fast (or their fast since 5am when they woke you up demanding ice cream for breakfast – you made them toast while regretting that ‘cocktail for the road’ last night) with the man himself at the wonderful Clifton Nurseries (London W9).

Grab a few plants for yourself while you’re there. Buying flowers does wonders for a hangover. Tickets and info here.

 

4. Magic Lantern Festival, Birmingham Botanical Gardens

magical-Lantern-Festival-64
Image credits – above and top.

Ok, so this isn’t strictly to do with horticulture, but who can say no to a lantern festival at a Botanical Gardens? With floating Christmas fairies, glowing flowers and a parade of penguin lanterns, this will make even the Scroogiest of hearts lift a little. As long as they like Christmas themed lights, that is. Information here.

 

5. Amaryllis admiring

red amaryllis

And lastly, if actually what you really need is an hour or two of down time between shopping, present wrapping and parties, do just that. Sink into the sofa, admire your beautifully decorated Christmas tree, and perhaps the gorgeous Amaryllis that arrived from Freddie’s Flowers this week, and wonder what on earth you’re going to get your brother-in-law this year. (Any ideas?!)

 

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Know Your Flowers Christmas Special: The Red Amaryllis

Here’s everything you need to know about Britain’s favourite festive flower, the red amaryllis…

They’re big, showy and more Christmassy than mulled wine and Morecambe and Wise. Here’s everything you need to know about Britain’s favourite festive flower, the red amaryllis…

A huge, shameless show-off – that’s the red amaryllis, which has overtaken the poinsettia as the festive flower par excellence. And why not? Christmas isn’t a time for subtlety: if you want your floral arrangement to stand out amidst the tinsel and glitter, you need something as astounding as the amaryllis.

They don’t just come in red, of course – and as one of the longest-lasting winter cut flowers around they’ll keep going much longer than the selection box your favourite aunt gives you every year. But no flower is Christmassier than the eye-popping, Santa-coat red varieties of amaryllis (well just take look at the beauties from one of our boxes above. They’re of the Red Lion variety, the best Christmas red amaryllis you can get, and you can practically hear Bing Crosby crooning away in the background).

And whether dazzling on the dinner table or illuminating the hallway, they make wonderful conversation starters with Christmas party guests. So if you need to drop a few impressive flower factoids into your chat, here’s Freddie’s guide to amaryllis…

 

The Name Game

Amaryllis belladonna
Amaryllis belladonna by an unknown artist c.1828. © RHS. Credit: RHS, Lindley Library

 

Scientifically speaking, a true ‘amaryllis’ is a genus of South African plants of which the best known is the (usually pink) Amaryllis belladonna.

But in one of those incredibly confusing naming controversies that happen all the time in botany, most of the plants commonly called ‘amaryllis’ – including our Red Lions – are from a South American genus which contains about 90 species and  hundreds of varieties, and which was reclassified by the Revered William Herbert in 1820 under the name Hippeastrum, meaning ‘Mounted Knight’s Star Lily’ (which wasn’t at all helpful since they aren’t lilies. And there are already plenty of flowers called ‘lilies’ that aren’t lilies).

Page 13, Amaryllis, Lys nominee Bella dona
An Amaryllis reclassified as a Hippeastrum  –  unknown c. 1790-1820. © RHS. Credit: RHS, Lindley Library

 

But never mind about all that – if it looks like an amaryllis and everyone calls it an ‘amaryllis’, then for all practical purposes, it’s an amaryllis, even if it’s a Hippeastrum.

And the name ‘amaryllis’ really does have an interesting backstory…

 

 

The Extremely Determined Shepherdess

william holman hunt amaryllis
William Holman Hunt  – Amaryllis (1884). Public domain.

 

Like all the best flower names, ‘amaryllis’ comes from the Greek (meaning ‘to sparkle’) and has a terrific mythological tale behind it.

As told by Virgil, there was once a beautiful shepherdess called Amarylis who fell hopelessly in love with a shepherd called Alteo.

Alteo had the looks of Apollo, the strength of Hercules and a keen interest in flowers (much like Freddie all round, then). But he was absurdly picky about his shepherdesses, so after Amarylis had chased him around the mountainside for a while he announced that the only way he could ever love her was if she brought him a new flower that he’d never seen before.

Since Alteo was a proper flower expert this proved frustratingly difficult but, undeterred, Amarylis went to consult the Oracle at Delphi, who told her that she would have to sacrifice her blood to win her man. Naturally, the shepherdess decided that the best way to do this would be to stand outside Alteo’s door and pierce her own heart with a golden arrow every day for a month.

A long shot, but it paid off – and on the occasion of the thirtieth stabbing a magnificent, tall and crimson flower grew from the blood spots on the path. And so Alteo got the bloom he’d never seen before, Amarylis got her man, and we got our favourite Christmas flower.

So although amaryllis (and indeed Hippeastrum) flowers do come in many colours, including white, orange, yellow-green and even salmon, you can tell your party guests that not only is red the Christmassiest colour, it’s also the real amaryllis colour… being the exact colour of shepherdess blood. That should help break the ice. And possibly even warm the cockles. Merry Christmas!

mondrian amaryllis-1910
Piet Mondrian – Amaryllis (1910). Public domain.

 

 

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My Floral Education – How weekly deliveries made me an Accidental Flower Expert

One of the most wonderful and unexpected benefits of weekly flower deliveries is that you learn an awful lot about all things floral…

Our customers tell us that one of the most wonderful and unexpected benefits of weekly flower deliveries is that you learn an awful lot about all things floral. Author Terry Stiastny explains how she accidentally became a flower expert…

My children look at me in disbelief when I tell them that at primary school, we didn’t learn science. We didn’t, as they do, learn about forces and light, about electrical circuits and fossils.

The subject we were taught was Nature.

There was a nature table; it was a desk at the side of the classroom that was arrayed with leaves, seeds, conkers. We drew and coloured in the shapes of leaves and we learnt to identify the trees that they came from. To this day, I can recognise an oak or a maple and tell you the difference between a sweet chestnut tree and a horse chestnut.

We also learned to recognise birds. This involved much colouring-in of the plumage of blue tits. It’s knowledge that’s only intermittently useful for modern urban life.

I don’t remember learning the names of flowers in the same way, but for decades my knowledge of them stayed at the same junior-school level.

I could do the basics: roses, tulips, daffodils and daisies. I preferred bright, gaudy flowers to pale, insipid ones; perhaps all the better to be able to colour them in.

But when I say I preferred them, my preferences weren’t very strong. Flowers, like football teams, were things I always found it hard to have strong opinions about. So advanced-level flower knowledge, like understanding the transfer window, is something I left to others.

box insert crop

But…each time the Freddie’s Flowers weekly delivery arrives, with it comes a short, simple guide to a world that I left behind with the nature table.

I learn that gypsophila and leucospermum are not medical complaints, but rather flowers that go by the rather lovely common names of baby’s breath and the pincushion. Lisianthus is not a Roman emperor but that twirly sort of flower, white or purple-edged. Astrantia and Alstroemeria, which could be constellations, are in fact a delicate clover-like flower and a Peruvian lily respectively.

There’s even, I discover, a flower called a kangaroo paw.

Jon Terry on Twitter

I think I enjoy learning words that are new to me almost as much as the cheerful flowers themselves.

That’s why I was sad to read that one junior dictionary recently dropped catkin, chestnut and clover from its pages and replaced them with words like broadband and analogue. The urban children I know don’t need to look up words about computers in the dictionary; they know them already. A catkin, however, would be a mystery to them.

But at least I can show them, every week, a gorgeous array of lilies or roses, sunflowers or cocosmia, on the nature table in the corner of the kitchen.

arranging sonny @familytreehouse

 

For more floral education, check out the Know your Flowers section of our blog. And if you want the real thing in your life, why not sign up for weekly flower deliveries at £24 a pop?

 

 

The picture at the bottom shows our Teddy Bear Sunflowers being arranged by future little florist, Sonny – via @familytreehouse_ on Instagram. The picture above that is our Lilies, Red Alstroemeria and Eucalyptus box arranged by Jon Terry, via Twitter. See more customer arrangements in our Gallery posts!

Know your flowers: When is a lily not a lily?

Not everything called a ‘lily’ really is one. Here’s our handy guide to telling which flowers are true lilies and which are only pretending…

Lilies pop up quite often in our arrangements, and in all sorts of wonderful colours. But not everything called a ‘lily’ really is one. Here’s our handy guide to telling which flowers are true lilies and which are only pretending…

A great many of the flowers we call lilies aren’t really lilies at all. A daylily, for example, isn’t a lily, and nor is a lily-of-the-valley. The orange flowers in this arrangement really are lilies, however, called LA lilies:

lilies orange

Confused? Well, most things to do with flower names are confusing, so don’t worry about it. The main point is that all ‘true’ lilies are members of the genus Lilium – which are herbaceous plants grown from bulbs, with large, showy flowers. Here’s a quick guide to the main ones…

 

True lilies

There are nine broad classifications of ‘true’ lily, with lots of species and hybrids in each, but three of the most popular are Asiatic, Oriental and Trumpet…

Asiatic hybrids

Blooming in early summer, these come in a veritable rainbow of colours including pinks, oranges, bright yellows, reds, purples and the purest of pure white. Asiatic lily flowers are medium-sized and face upwards or outwards (which means that in the garden they can fill up with rain and dust). They are splendid in cut flower arrangements, despite being mostly unscented.

Lilium_Dimension

Lilium Dimension. Image credit.

 

Oriental hybrids

Oriental lilies bloom later than Asiatic ones, and tend to be taller (up to eight foot for some garden varieties), larger and much more heavily scented – especially at night when they can positively fill a room with a distinctively exotic fragrance. They come in whites, pinks, reds and fancy two-colour blooms.

lilies-by-anna-simpson-via-FB-768x696

Our White Oriental lily arrangement at home, sent in by Freddie’s Flowers customer Anna Simpson

Stargazer_lily

The ‘Stargazer’ Oriental lily. Image credit.

 

Trumpet lilies

Also known as Aurelian lilies, this group includes hybrids of Asiatic species, and their striking feature is the curious downward-facing trumpet shape of their huge flowers. Like the Oriental lilies, they’re tall and monstrously fragrant, especially at night.

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Lilium ‘Fanfare’. Image credit.

 

Not true lilies

So those are some of the main true lilies. But what of the imposters? Here are some common lilies that actually aren’t…

 

Daylily

Beloved of gardeners for being perfect, hardy perennials with countless varieties and colours, the ‘day’ part is fair enough (the flowers typically last no more than 24 hours) but ‘lilies’ they ain’t: they’re part of the genus Hemerocallis, not Lilium at all.

daylilies

Daylilies. Image credit.

 

Waterlily

Although these are quite possibly the most famous ‘lilies’ of all and would score very highly on Pointless in a ‘name something called lily’ question, they’re actually aquatic plants in the family Nymphaeaceae. Sorry, Monet.

Monet_Water_Lilies_1916

Monet, ‘Water lilies’ 1916. Matsukata Collection.

 

Lily of the Nile

Also known as Agapanthus (and featuring brilliantly in some of our boxes), these lovely flowers are in the family Amaryllidaceae. And they don’t grow by the Nile, either, since they’re native to more southerly parts of Africa.

Agapanthus

Image credit.

 

Sword-lily

Yes, the gladdie! Nicknamed ‘sword-lily’ because ‘gladiolus’ is the Ancient Roman for a ‘little sword’, which they look a bit like, gladioli are of course not lilies. But they are glorious: read our complete guide to gladioli here.

Pam Fairless Gladioli via FB

 

Lily Allen

Not a member of the Lilium family but rather a London-based entertainment dynasty, this Lily is famous for saying lots of very funny things, such as ‘The Mail Online is like carbs – you know you shouldn’t, but you do. Probably two or three times a day’. And: ‘The press are trying to make me out to be this really bitchy, cocky, horrible lady, and I’m actually not… Well, I am a bit.’

Lily_Allen

Not a ‘true’ Lily. Image credit: Warner Music Sweden.

 

Lily the Pink

Not a true lily, but a hit song by 1960s novelty pop act The Scaffold, whose members included the Scouse poet Roger McGough, comic John Gorman (who couldn’t sing) and Paul McCartney’s younger brother Mike.

See if you can (a) spot which is which, and (b) recall all the words from when you were at school…


 

So now you know how to spot a true lily. Of course, we love them all, even the pretend ones. And if you love flowers too – in all their glorious, home-transforming colours and scents – why not sign up for weekly flower deliveries at £24 a pop?

 

Freddie’s Complete Guide to Buying the Perfect Christmas Tree

Want a lovely, real tree that looks suitably fabulous on Christmas Day and doesn’t cover your whole house in needles? Just follow Freddie’s eight easy tips…

How to pick a real Christmas tree that looks suitably fabulous on Christmas Day and doesn’t cover your whole house in needles? Just follow Freddie’s eight easy tips…

 

1. Don’t jump the gun – how to pick a real Christmas tree

A well looked-after Christmas tree should last for about six weeks, so if you are Christmas mad and like your gaff decked out by the beginning of November, know that your tree might not be looking totally fabulous on Christmas day.

 

2. Measure a tree-plus-bucket

When measuring your ceiling, remember to take into account the height of a stand or bucket. We don’t want your angel to get a stiff neck.

 

3. Find your shape

Decide what shape tree will look good this year. Most people prefer fuller, rounder trees and shops know this, so they’ll have a chunkier price tag. Freddie’s favourite is a Nordmann Fir (below) as they’re full of energy, reliable and easy on the eye. Just like Freddie himself.

 

nordmann firs

 

4. Snap a needle

Check the freshness of the tree by snapping a needle in half. If it snaps satisfyingly, it’s a fresh ‘un. If it’s more pliable and only breaks after a sad, sorrowful bend, the tree is old and won’t last as long or look as good in your home. Sap on the tree is also a sign of freshness.

 

5. Trim and water it asap

Once home, cut about an inch off the base of the trunk (essential so the tree can absorb water and live longer) and get it into water pronto. If you’re buying a tree with roots so you can replant it, be sure to keep topping up the water.

 

6. Use bleach

Flower food won’t work here, neither will sugar or vinegar. However, a drop or two of bleach in the Christmas tree water will keep the water clean and help the needles stay on.

 

7. Position it wisely

Like your regular Freddie’s Flowers, keep your tree out of direct sunlight and away from radiators and draughts.

 

8. Beware rogue climbers

Weigh down the tree if you have cats or small children, in case they mistake the tree for a mountaineering opportunity.

 

Finally, it’s always good to buy from a  local farm that grows the trees themselves, if you have one. But if you don’t, we recommend Pines and Needles and The Christmas Forest.

Love all things naturally lovely? Sign up for weekly flower deliveries, including some spectacularly festive ones, for £24 a pop here.

Flowers and the Greek myths – Five common flower names with legendary backstories

Ever wondered why ‘ordinary’ flowers have such strange and exotic names? Here are five legendary Greek tales behind common flowers…

Ever wondered why ‘ordinary’ flowers have such strange and exotic names? Well often it’s because they’re named after characters and stories in Greek mythology. Here are five legendary tales behind common flowers…

Aren’t flower names wonderful? True, they’re quite often impossible to spell (antirrhinum, anyone?) and, as Shakespeare pointed out, by any other name they would of course smell as sweet. But the exoticism of an ‘agapanthus’ or the musical sound of an ‘amaryllis’ is all part of the joy of having loads of flowers in your life.

So where do these strange and mysterious names come from? Well, a great many come from very old stories. Flowers are closely intertwined with our shared history and culture, going back across the centuries.

In the time of the Ancient Greeks, flowers were the very essence of myth and legend, playing key roles in all sorts of dramatic incidents. It was when gathering flowers in the springtime (including the rose, crocus, iris, violet, lily and larkspur) that the goddess Persephone was abducted by the god Hades and consigned to a life in the Underworld for a portion of every year (thus also consigning the rest of us, above ground, to winter).

 

hades-persephone-pignoni
Persephone is snatched by Hades – painting by Simone Pignoni, circa 1650

 

And many of our flower names today stem directly from particular legends. Iris, for example, means ‘eye of heaven’, and is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, who was said to carry messages between Earth and the gods.

Here are five more of the most evocative flower name origins – some you probably know, others may surprise you…

 

1. Narcissus

 John_William_Waterhouse_Echo_And_Narcissus
John William Waterhouse – Echo and Narcissus (1903)

 

Narcissus was a young hunter famed for his ravishing good looks – and nobody admired those looks quite as much he did himself. Indeed, he disdained all those around him, including the mountain nymph Echo, who fell deeply in love with him but was cruelly rejected.

But in the end the beautiful young man’s choosiness turns out to be his downfall, when he comes across a pool of water on Mount Helicon. Seeing his face reflected in the waters, Narcissus instantly falls in love with his own image and, becoming completely entranced, is unable to leave. He eventually wastes away to nothing, and in the spot where he dies a narcissus flower springs up.

The story has inspired many works of art and literature over the centuries, notably the Italian baroque master Caravaggio and the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali.

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Caravaggio – Narcissus (1597-99)

 

The legend of Narcissus also had an influence on the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who took up the theme when he wrote about ‘narcissistic tendencies’.

So two thousand years later and the myth of Narcissus lives on, both in our word narcissism for excessive self-love, and of course through the narcissus genus of flower, from which our lovely, yellow-trumpeted and quite unpretentious modern daffodil springs.

 

2. Hyacinth

 The_Death_of_Hyacinthos
Jean Broc, The Death of Hyacinthos (1801)

 

Hyacinthus was another doomed, handsome youth. The Spartan was a great pal of the god Apollo, and they frequently enjoyed a game of discus (Ancient Greek version of frisbee) together.

Unfortunately during one of these games the discus whacks Hyacinthus on the head, killing him. Beset by grief, Apollo refuses to allow the passage of Hyacinthus to Hades, and instead forms a flower from the bloodstained earth. And thus appears the hyacinth – the petals of which, according to one version of the legend, are stained by Apollo’s tears.

A three-day Hyakinthia festival dedicated was held in Sparta once a year thereafter, at Apollo’s command. It’s worth noting that the hyacinth as we know it today is not the same as the Greek hyakinthos, which was more akin to the lily or larkspur.

 

3. Peony

 Asklepios_-_Epidauros

Paeon was a healer, working under the instruction of Asclepius, the god of medicine. He was pretty good at it too, healing the wounds of gods Hades and Ares, among others.

However, Ascelpius (above) become jealous of his student and threatened to kill him – at which point Zeus, the king of the gods, stepped in with an act of divine intervention, saving Paeon by transforming him into a peony flower.

The myth of Paeon may actually have some basis in reality, since the peony was used for a variety of medicinal and health purposes in ancient times, including for pregnant women.

(Read our complete guide to peonies here.)

 

4. Sunflower

clytie leighton
Sir Frederick Leighton – Clytie (1895)

 

Funnily enough, the Greek myth of the sunflower is anything but sunny. It tells the story of the nymph Clytie who is consumed love for the sun god Helios.

Unfortunately, Helios is more interested in her sister, Leucothoe. In a jealous rage, Clytie tells their father about her sister’s affair with the god, who responds by burying poor Leucothoe alive.

Strangely, this does little to help Clytie win Helios’ affections. He continues to spurn her and in her despair she strips naked and sits on a rock for nine days doing nothing but staring at the sun.

Without food or water she gradually wastes away and turns into the heliotrope (aka turnsole, aka sunflower), which according to long-standing but wrong belief, turns its head to follow the sun’s passage across the sky every day.

(Read our complete guide to sunflowers here.)

 

5) Hellebore

 the-youth-of-bacchus-1884.jpg!Large
William-Adolphe Bouguereau – The Youth of Bacchus (Dionysius) (1884)

The hellebore – or Christmas rose – was used by the ancients for a variety of medicinal purposes, including treating paralysis, gout and even insanity. In one particular legend it was used to cure the madness of the daughters of the King of Argos.

Cursed by Dionysus, the god of wine, the poor women of Argos are rampaging naked through the streets, crying and screaming – much like on a Saturday night in many of our town centres.

Fortunately a renowned soothsayer and animal-talker called Melampus of Pylos turns up bearing a good supply of hellebores, which he uses to help cure the women of their malaise. At last, a happy ending for our heroes of Greek legend.

For his payment Malampus is allowed to take a third of the goods of the city of Argos (presumably filling in the correct catalogue numbers on a little form and taking it to the counter first).

 

funzen pun main
A classical arrangement from Freddie’s Flowers!

 

So there you have it. Whether it’s pretty heroes turning into floral versions of themselves, tragic stories of unrequited love, or using a bit of Christmas magic to stop madwomen from running rampage in Argos (we’ve all been there), for the Greeks flowers were, literally, legendary – and played a central role in how they viewed the world and understood the ordinary things of life.

We reckon that seeing the world through flowers is a pretty good philosophy. If you do too, why not sign up for our naturally lovely weekly deliveries at £20 a pop and transform your home into a floral Elysium (that’s the Greek version of heaven)…

Flower Power! The best hippy music of the 1960s

Henry Jeffreys admits he would have made a rubbish hippy. And yet, flower power did produce some truly magical pop music…

Writer Henry Jeffreys admits he would have made a rubbish hippy: when he sees footage of Woodstock he worries about the toilet facilities. And yet, flower power did produce some truly magical pop music – which is your favourite hippy classic?…

By Henry Jeffreys

 

People often talk about how wonderful it would have been to be young in the 1960s. And I can see their point. Imagine seeing the Beatles before they were famous or a wrinkle-free Rolling Stones. And the clothes! I’d have made a good mod, I think, if I lost a little weight; staying up all night dancing to Motown followed by a visit to an old Jewish tailor in Hackney to get my new mohair suit fitted.

It would have been great until about 1966 when musicians started taking themselves seriously. This was the start of the hippy era. Suddenly it wasn’t just about having fun; it was about changing the world. You can see the exact crossover in the documentary Rock Revolution where Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits and Graham Nash from the Hollies have a bit of an argument. Roughly 35 minutes in Graham Nash says: “Pop musicians they could rule the world, man….What Donovan is trying to put over will stop wars dead… We can get up there and say Hitler was wrong and shout it to the world…we can stop world wars before they ever started!”

I love Peter Noone’s laconic response, “I disagree.”

Imagine thinking that this man had the power to stop wars:

 

One can see a trajectory from Nash’s deluded witterings to Bono today. If I’d been alive in the late 60s, I would have been totally uncool like Peter Noone. There would have been no free love for me. I’m not comfortable with being naked the whole time anyway. Especially not in England. When I watch footage of Woodstock, I worry about the toilet facilities.

And yet, and yet, despite my dislike of the hippy ethos, I have to admit that some of the music from this period is phenomenal. Joni Mitchell didn’t actually go to Woodstock. She did the Dick Cavett show instead. Better toilets I imagine. She wrote this song in tribute to Graham Nash, her lover at the time, who was there. Altogether now:  “We are stardust, we are golden.. . .”

 

Before music became important, though, things had already begun to change in England. Rather than just doing their own versions of American music, British acts, such as the Kinks, the Small Faces, and of course, the Beatles, mined folk and music hall to create a whimsical peculiarly English style of pop music.

One of my favourites from this era is Flowers in the Rain by The Move. It’s joyful stuff and literally about nothing more than watching flowers in the rain. This single was the first one played on totally groovy new station, Radio 1 (though there is some debate on the internet about whether it was actually Beefeaters by John Dankworth or whether that was being used as a jingle so didn’t count). Roy Wood from the Move later formed ELO with Jeff Lynne and achieved festive immortality with Wizzard’s I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day.

 

Over in California young people were expanding their minds and liberating their bodies. Graham Nash swapped the Hollies and rainy Manchester for sunshine, Laurel Canyon and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and sometimes Young. Here they are ‘sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind’ on Marrakesh Express.

 

It was further north than LA, however, where flower power really originated. Forget Scott Mackenzie’s dreary San Francisco, the real sound of hippy SF were Jefferson Airplane. One listen to this and you’re transported to brightly painted houses in Haight Ashbury and surrounded by lots of beautiful people wearing very little looking for somebody to love:

 

As the sixties progressed songs became longer and more complex, the Beach Boys went from Surfin’ USA to Good Vibrations.  This might have something to do with the drugs that musicians were taking. No song charts the experience of taking acid better than Kenny Rogers and The First Edition’s Just Dropped In, a song brought to a whole new generation when it featured in the Coen Brothers’ Big Lebowski:

 

But it wasn’t all good times. There was a powerful strain of paranoia in the late 60s. It might have been bad drugs or the fact that America was a deeply divided and unhappy place, plus ca change, one might say. Nobody captured this hippie paradox better than Love. This multi-racial band from LA mixed rock n’ roll with folk and psychedelia to create some of the most vivid music of the era. One of the greatest musical experiences of my life was catching, Arthur Lee, their lead singer on the comeback trail at a festival in Kent in the early 2000s. He died of leukemia in 2006.  This is Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark and Hilldale, I have literally no idea what it’s about but it rocks.

 

Finally the Small Faces, Tin Soldier. What I love about it is that it contains all of the best music from the era in one song: it starts psychedelic and whimsical with stuff about Little Tin Soldiers wanting to jump into fires, then for a moment the band invent heavy metal but discard it in favour of a full-blooded soul stomp with PP Arnold’s uplifting vocals. This song encapsulates what is so wonderful about the music of the late 60s. Forget the politics, forget the silly clothes, forget about Donovan stopping wars, it’s about a time when people lived to watch the flowers grow, and musically anything seemed possible…

 

Henry Jeffreys writes about drink, books and popular culture in The Spectator, The Guardian, The Oldie, The Lady and many other publications.  He is the author of ‘Empire of Booze’  – a history of Britain told through alcoholic drinks. 

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Beyond the Sunflowers: Van Gogh’s Other Great Flower Paintings

His sunflowers are the most famous floral pictures in art. But Vincent van Gogh painted many, many other flowers. Here’s a guide to the greatest…

His sunflowers are the most famous floral pictures in art. But Vincent van Gogh painted many, many other flowers – more than enough to prove his genius. Here’s a guide to the greatest…

by Nigel Andrew

Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower paintings are among the most famous and instantly recognisable in western art – and among the most expensive. When Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers sold at auction in 1987, it fetched just short of US $40 million, more than tripling the record price for any work of art.

But van Gogh’s flower painting was by no means all about sunflowers – and indeed, it was his late painting of Irises that broke the auction record again in the same year as the Fifteen Sunflowers, selling for US $53.9 million.

fourteen sunflowers
Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (1888) one of the series of instantly-recognisable sunflower paintings. This one is at the National Gallery, London.

 

Van Gogh had been a flower painter throughout his career – partly because he couldn’t afford to pay models. As he wrote to his brother Theo, ‘I have lacked money for paying models, else I had given myself to figure painting, but I have made a series of colour studies in painting simply flowers, red poppies, blue cornflowers and myositis. White and pink roses, yellow chrysanthemums…’

He could hardly have been better employed: it is hard to imagine that he would have got very far as a figure painter, but his studies of flowers liberated him to explore the world of colours from which he would create his greatest work.

 

Brighter, freer and looser

Self-Portrait9_Van_Gogh
Self-portrait – Paris, Summer 1887 (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

 

First Vincent had to free himself from the muddy palette that had characterised his earliest works, such as the famous Potato Eaters. When he moved to Paris in the mid-1880s, Theo urged him to paint in brighter, stronger colours, and flower painting enabled him to do this.

Vincent took the enterprise seriously, studying Dutch and Flemish flower painters of the golden age, and initially adopting their habit of depicting flowers against a dark background. In early van Gogh flower paintings, such as Glass with Roses (below) and Vase with Carnations, all the colour is in the flowers, while the background is conventionally gloomy.

Glass-with-Roses
Glass with Roses, 1886 (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

 

However, there are some bright and exuberant arrangements among these early efforts, such as the Vase with Gladioli and Lilac, and van Gogh’s handling of paint was becoming freer and looser. Vincent was about to break free and find himself as an artist.

Vase-with-Gladioli-and-Lilac
Vase with Gladioli and Lilac, 1886 (Private Collection)

 

The Blue Vase period

The turning point came in 1887, by which time Vincent was totally immersed in flower painting, getting used to ‘colours other than grey [as he wrote to his sister] – pink, soft or bright green, light blue, violet, yellow, glorious red’.

He was also exploring colour theory and the rich possibilities of setting one colour against another – and, of course, he was coming into contact with Impressionism, Pointillism and Divisionism, with Japanese woodcuts and all the ferment of artistic ideas that were being aired in Paris at the time. Meanwhile, his friends encouraged Vincent by buying him bouquets to paint, and he also found flower paintings a useful way to pay restaurant bills.

Vase-with-Lilacs,-Daisies-and-Anemones
Vase with Lilacs, Daisies and Anemones, 1887 (Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva)

 

A high point of his work at this time was a series of paintings of flowers in a blue vase, set against variously coloured backgrounds. Pictures such as Vase with Lilacs, Daisies and Anemones (above), Flowers in a Blue Vase and Vase with Daisies and Anemones show how far van Gogh’s immersion in flower painting had taken his art.

Vase-with-Daisies-and-Anemones
Vase with Daisies and Anemones, 1887 (Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo)

 

These Blue Vase paintings are bursting with life and energy, with vibrant colour and swift, exploratory brushwork. In them we see the greatness of the mature artist emerging.

As for the flowers, Vincent painted everything from Asters (Vase with Autumn Asters) to Zinnias (Bowl with Zinnias and Other Flowers), by way of Carnations, Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemums and Wild Flowers in a Vase), Gladioli, Peonies (Bowl with Peonies and Roses) – and, oh yes, Sunflowers.

chrysanthemums_and_wild_flowers_in_a_vase
Chrysanthemums and Wild Flowers in a Vase, 1887 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

 

Bowl-with-Peonies-and-Roses
Bowl with Peonies and Roses, 1886 (Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo)

 

Maturity and madness

The famous Sunflower paintings were among the products of the great, er, flowering of van Gogh’s art that followed his arrival in Provence in 1888, where the bright, sun-baked landscapes awakened him to the full expressive possibilities of colour and paint.

van-gogh-painting-sunflowers-1888
‘Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers’ by Paul Gaughin, 1888 (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

 

It was a period of intense creative endeavour and mental ferment that came to a traumatic crisis with the famous incident involving Gauguin and the severed ear. Vincent ended up in an asylum in Saint-Remy – and, while there, he again began painting flowers. It was in the asylum gardens there that he painted the famous Irises, a picture that so impressed his brother Theo that he entered it in the Salon des Independants of 1889.

Irises-Vincent_van_Gogh
Irises, 1889 (J. Paul Getty Museum, LA)

 

Irises and roses – the last great paintings

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Zundert 1853–1890 Auvers-sur-Oise) Irises, 1890 Oil on canvas; 29 x 36 1/4 in. (73.7 x 92.1 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Adele R. Levy, 1958 (58.187) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/436528
Irises, 1890 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 

Towards the end of his stay in the asylum, van Gogh was feeling calm and confident that his mental crisis was behind him. His final flower paintings are suffused with this new feeling of serenity, showing flowers in full bloom, freely arranged and zestfully rendered.

irises in vase against yellow
Vase with Irises Against a Yellow Background, 1890 (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

 

Vincent painted violet Irises against a yellow background and against a pink background (1890, Metropolitan Museum of Art) and several delightful studies of roses (Still Life: Pink Roses, also Roses and Vase with Pink Roses) as well as a lovely rendering of almond blossom against a blue sky. These paintings of 1890 are among his most beautiful late works, though inevitably they tend to get overshadowed by those blazing Sunflowers.

Roses_-_Vincent_van_Gogh
Still Life: Vase with Pink Roses, 1890 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

 

Sadly, just a few months after the hopeful period in which he painted these last great flower paintings, Vincent van Gogh had died by his own hand. He died an obscure painter who had scarcely sold a picture, but in the years that followed he achieved a towering reputation as a giant of modern art.

I’d like to think that, if nothing of his work had survived but his flower paintings, he would still be regarded as one of the greats.

Nigel Andrew is a writer and host of the Nigeness culture blog

 

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The (often terrible) Poetry of Red, Red Roses

Roses are red, violets are blue – here’s a poetic guide to the perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa for you….

Roses are red, violets are blue – here’s a poetic guide to the perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa for you….

Just why is that the red rose has become the floral symbol for erotic love?

After all, botanically speaking, a ‘rose’ is just a woody perennial plant of the genus Rosa, in the family Rosacea, which has four main subgenera and hundreds of species with flower petals that come in all colours – the red ones merely being those with a particular combination of anthocyanin pigments in the petals.

But that doesn’t really capture the romantic bit, does it?

rose tattoo

Why, for example, is a single red rose so often to be found held between the teeth of a sexy Argentinian tango dancer, or tattooed on the shoulder of a glamorous, doomed youth? Or indeed, clutched in the sweaty palm of a teenage boy on his first Valentine’s date?

Above all, why do so many poets feel the need to constantly compare the object of their affections to red, red roses?

 

Blame Rabbie Burns

At one level, the answer is simple enough. Roses – and red ones in particular – have always been loaded with symbolism: the heady scent, that vivid colour hinting at hot blood and blushing cheeks…

In Roman Catholicism the rose actually became identified with the Virgin Mary (hence the ‘rosary’ form of prayer) but before that the Romans associated the flower with Venus, the Goddess of Love – and roses also held erotic significance in Sufi Islamic culture.

The great poem that kicked off today’s rose obsessions though, is ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’.

It was written down by Robert Burns in 1794 as part of his project of preserving traditional Scots folk songs, and became the Victorian equivalent of a smash hit single.

 O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

 

It’s a simple lyric, but with all that stuff about seas going dry and rocks melting in the sun even Burns himself worried that people might find it ‘ludicrous and absurd’ rather than ‘simple and wild’. But it packs quite an emotional punch if you’re in the mood (in fact, Bob Dylan once said that ‘Red, Red Rose’ had influenced him more than any other song).

However, while we can let Rabbie Burns off the hook for his bit of overblown romanticism, it’s harder to forgive some of the other red rose ‘poetry’…

 

Roses are red, violets are blue

Roses are red, violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet, And so are you.

This incredibly popular ditty is familiar from a million Valentine’s Day cards, but actually has origins in some lines from the 1590 epic poem The Faerie Queene by Sir Edmund Spenser:

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

It’s a poem that just cries out for satire, and all schoolchildren know much better versions, such as:

Roses are red, violets are blue.
Onions stink. And so do you.

In the age of the internet, ‘Roses are red’ pastiches have been taken to whole new levels. A long-running ‘meme’ involves adding the first line to any news headline or tweet, often with very funny results. For example:

meme1

and

meme3

and also:

meme5

 

Meat Loaf’s Wolf with the Red Roses

All of these poetic abominations pale into insignificance, however, when compared with the Worst Poem Involving Red Roses of All Time. We refer, of course, to the spoken word introduction to Meat Loaf’s song You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) from his multi-million selling album Bat Out of Hell

 

 

Oh dear, oh dear. The truth is, most of the time the best way to appreciate red roses is just to look at them, breathe in their scent, and not say anything.

We like them singly, but even more in glorious, room-filling, life-affirming and yes, romantic arrangements. Now that’s poetry…

 

freddies red rose arrangement
Our October 2016 arrangement of Red roses ‘Freedom’, astrantia ‘Roma’, hypericum ‘Coco Casino’ and eucalyptus ‘Cinerea’.

 

Love flowers? So do we! Make your home naturally lovely all year round by signing up for a delivery box for just £24 a pop. 

 

Photo top by Angelynn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons