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Gilly flowers for mom

May 06, 2002|BY Dorry Baird Norris

The first Mother's Day - meant by her daughter to honor her mother Anna Reese Jarvis - was celebrated in 1908 at a church service in Grafton, W,Va. Each guest was given a white carnation - Mrs. Jarvis' favorite flower. A writer of the time Jane Stewart commented that this flower was especially apt for the celebration as it symbolized "sweetness purity and endurance."

The carnation offered as a remembrance at the service was a far cry from its ancestor the smaller flowered clove pink. It was that short-lived perennial with slender bluish gray green leaves, raggedy flowers and stiff knobby stems that was to enthrall gardeners during the Renaissance.

Botanically the small clove scented carnation commonly grown in the herb garden is Dianthus but earlier generations dubbed it with more imaginative names:

- gilliflower

- gyofre

- gelyflower

- gelouer

- gelefloure

- gillyflower

- Clove Pink

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- July flower

- gilovre

- Sops in Wine

- pictotee

- oeullet

- cloves of Paradise

- Jove's flower

Pick a name, any name and you'll be right.

The name "carnation" may be derived from "coronation," as these fragrant flowers were often woven into the coronets worn at ancient Greek weddings and betrothals. The name gilliflower can be attributed to the blossom's clove-like scent - girfle is the French word for clove. In France the carnation was once called oeillet - diminutive of oeil or "eye." Look at the center of the plant and you will be able to understand this reference. "Picotee" comes from the "pinked" edges of the flowers. In French, picotee means "marked with points." Gilliflower blooms look as if you had taken a pair of pinking shears to them.

It wasn't until the Renaissance that clove pinks became the darlings of English gardeners - they spent years breeding new varieties of the wildling.

In the middle of the 16th century William Turner noted: "They have been made pleasant and sweet by the wit of Man and not by Nature."

The spicy fragrance and enticing colors also served to endear them to poets writers and painters. Their images appeared in portraits and still lifes. In Medieval art a maiden pictured holding a single pink or gillyflower was deemed to be engaged. The painter Benvenuto Tisio used an image of a carnation as his signature. Writers memorialized the flower under a wide variety of names always praising its beauty and scent. To Chaucer it was "clove giloflor" while Spenser called it "Sops-in wine" - it was used to flavor wine in place of the more expensive clove. In the 16th century Roussou defined it as "food for Phoebus' horses." Phoebus was the sun god and his horses deserved only the best.

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The gillyfower was one of the many sweet smelling plants carried to the New World by the colonists. John Josselyn writing about his garden travels along the east coast of the United States noted in Colonial Traveler, "Gilliflowers thrive exceedingly there and are very large. The colliby or hummingbird is much pleased with them."

In the Middle Ages, the pink had a more practical purpose than just to delight the nose of the gardener, the eye of the painter and the tongue of the cook. Crusaders drank carnation laced wine to control fevers caused by the plague. A conserve of the flowers was thought drive away melancholy. The clove gilliflower, along with balm hyssop, angelica leaves, cinnamon bark, mace and saffron is reputed to be used in the secret recipe for the liqueur Chartreuse.

This Mother's Day create a window box as a gift for your mother that includes several Dianthus caryophyllis varieties and ivy to drape over the sides. Neutral or even slightly alkaline well drained soil will serve nicely to help grow healthy plants. A gray gravel mulch will complement the gray leaves. The Genadier series has long been a favorite of mine especially for kitchen use. The petals add a colorful touch to salads. Steep the petals in rice wine vinegar and you have the makings of a tasty dressing for fresh fruit.

You might even include a card with this adapatation of William Lawson's comment from his 17h century book "The Country Housewifes Garden" to let your mother know how much she means to you:

Mothers - "As they are in beauty and sweetness so are they in virtue and wholesomeness."

Happy Mother's Day!

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