The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
31 October 2007
Some words are just delicious to say. The tongue wraps around them tenderly, letting the syllables roll out slowly to savor all the taste before the word melts away.
My favorite word candy is antique rose names. Like a chocolate cake drizzled with framboise liqueur and garnished with raspberry drupelets and mint leaves, these names layer flavor on flavor. There’s the sound of the name itself, the beauty and perfume of the rose it represents, sometimes memories of growing the rose or seeing it at the botanical garden, and the intriguing histories behind the development of the rose and its naming.
The antique rose closest to my heart is Souvenir de la Malmaison. The picture at left cannot do justice to the perfection of its color and form. The name is a joy to say, far more piquant than its original name, “Queen of Beauty and Fragrance.” And the name evokes one of the world’s great love affairs, with a tragic and bittersweet end: The cast-off empress spends her lonely last years creating a magnificent garden.
Many rose breeders named their creations after their wives or lovers or in honor of some important person. These are among my favorites to say (please forgive my not taking the time to put the accent marks in): Cecile Brunner, Baronne Henriette de Snoy, Belle Poitevine, Dame de Coeur, Duchesse de Brabant, Felicite Parmentier, Frau Karl Druschki, General Jacqueminot, Ghislaine de Feligonde, Kronprincessin Viktoria, Madame Alfred Carriere, Zephirine Drouhin.
Some names make me laugh: Baby Faurax, Climbing Don Juan, Granny Grimmetts.
Some raise questions about the rose’s history or habits: Complicata (is it really hard to grow?), Gruss an Aachen (aka Salut d'Aix la Chapelle; did the breeder purposely snub other cities, or did he die before creating Gruss an Koln, Gruss an Bonn, etc.?), Mutabilis (are you in danger of its developing gigantic flesh-eating blossoms during the night?), Seven Sisters (can you only own one if you went to an exclusive women’s liberal arts college?), Variegata di Bologna (are the petals the colors of lunch meat at different stages of ripeness?), York and Lancaster (do the bushes hold pitched battles and change sides with confusing frequency?).
And some, like the eponymous roses, are luscious on the tongue: Celsiana, Coquette des Blanches, Enfant de France, Etoile de Lyon, Reine des Violettes, Reve d’Or, Rose a Parfum de l’Hay, Safrano, Veilchenblau.
Although you might be pleased to have a rose bearing your name, it can be a mixed blessing. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.”