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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

31 October 2007

Word candy

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.”


Lisa said...

You have to love that Eleanor Roosevelt :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, great quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. I love this post because it's about words. That opening paragraph is absolutely gorgeous. Great rose names indeed in the rest of it.

Sidney said...

That's interesting. I knew there were some interesting rose names but never really paid close attention to the origins and everything.

Shauna Roberts said...

LISA, Yeah. Who knew E.R. was such a cut-up?

CHARLES, Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

SIDNEY, another cool set of antique rose names are those of "found roses," which are roses someone found growing in an abandoned cemetery or the back yard of an old house and couldn't identify. These are sometimes named after the place where they were found or the person who owned the land. So some have really strange names like "Highway 290 Pink Buttons" and "Old Gay Hill Red China."

Bernita said...

I have Peter Harkness' "The Rose: An Illustrated History."
I fondle the names.

Shauna Roberts said...

BERNITA, "fondle the names" is a great phrase!

cs harris said...

Souvenir de la Malmaison is my favorite rose, too. I love old roses. Every repairman who comes to work on my house ends up bleeding...

Sphinx Ink said...

What a beautiful rose, and reminiscence of the forlorn Empress Josephine, abandoned by Napoleon. And you are right--those names are so beautiful. A lovely and luscious post. Thanks.

Shauna Roberts said...

CS, Souvenir de la Malmaison must be a favorite of many people, given the trouble I had finding any mail order companies with it still in stock when I moved to my new house.

I finally saw it at Antique Rose Emporium last week and ordered several (and a Clotilde Soupert), even though the company charges somewhat more than other antique rose nurseries I've used.

Sphinx Ink, glad you enjoyed the post and the picture. Thanks for stopping by.

Carleen Brice said...

I put a plant called sneezeweed in my novel because...sneezeweed?!

Who knew Eleanor Roosevelt was funny?

Shauna Roberts said...

Sneezeweed--what a great plant name, CARLEEN! Sounds like a Southern plant, to get such a down-to-earth yet descriptive name.