A garden is a place of enchantment to those who love flowers. Many happy hours can be spent in this serene setting. Nature is a generous provider and teacher, too, sharing knowledge that observant gardeners can learn and heed as they watch their flowers grow. If knowledge is power, a flowering garden is a very rich resource, of history, food, medicine and the human spirit.
Floral Time Frame
Scientists count about 270,000 floral species, and point to the existence of floral fossils as evidence that many flowers are millions of years old. The rose is called the queen of flowers, a worthy title in consideration of its beauty and long history. Roses have been in existence for about 200 million years by scientific estimates. They are always a popular choice for gardens worldwide, and today there are varieties to suit every climate, style and taste, thanks to hybridization. The poinsettia also is a very popular flower worldwide, and it is known as the Christmas flower. It comes in red, pink and cream colors. The first poinsettia in the United States was introduced in 1928 by Dr. Joel Roberts-Poinsett, the American Ambassador to Mexico.
From earliest times, numerous flowers have been classified as edible, from daylilies to gardenias, and lavender to sunflowers. The Romans added calendulas to vinegar as seasoning for their meats and salads. They were also partial to roses and violets. The Chinese brew chrysanthemum tea and have cultivated the flower for more than 2,500 years. From the early 1600s, French monks added carnation petals among other secret ingredients to their famous liqueur, Chartreuse.
Among the most fascinating flower histories is that of the tulip. This dainty flower was once so precious that it was used as currency among the elite in Europe, and traded much like stocks. The noble house of van Bourse was the center of this speculative trade, and the origin of the term “bourse” for today’s stock exchange. Tulip trading evidently reached its peak starting in 1634 until 1637 when it was outlawed, causing the tulip paper ownership market to crash. Historical estimates set the number of traded tulips at 10 million, many of which were grown by monks in Flanders.
Flowers have an ancient medicinal history. The Aztecs used dahlias in the treatment of epilepsy. Roman soldiers carried supplies of lavender to heal wounds and soothe infections. King Henry VIII of England consumed daisies to counter his stomach ulcers, just one of his many physical ailments in later life.
There are numerous spiritual links to flowers. In ancient Egypt, the blue lotus flower was regarded as sacred, and was found strewn on the body of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen when his tomb was opened in 1922. Formally presented to the Pope in the 1600s, the passionflower is named for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The pointed leaves of holly were associated with Christ’s crown of thorns and the red berries with blood. The name "holly" is thought to derive from the original description of “ holy tree” by medieval monks.