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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007

IN BLOOM

Kaneshion (Carnation)


The year growing ancient, Not yet on summer's death, Nor on the birth Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o' the season Are our carnations, and streak'd gillyvors.

From "The Winter's Tale" by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

To the ancient Greeks, Dianthus flowers were sacred. They were known as Diosanthos, meaning the "flowers of Zeus," and were used to make garlands or floral crowns. There are many species of wild Dianthus, but one in particular, the pinkish-red Dianthus caryophyllus, has a delicious fragrance of sweet cloves. In the Middle Ages, these flowers were widely grown in Spain, Italy, Germany and elsewhere to add a spicy flavor to wine. Thereafter, many varieties sprang up or were sought out by collectors: some had double flowers, and some had attractive streaks of white, deep red or pink.

In England, these closely related plants had many names, such as sops in wine, clove gillyflowers, gillyvors, carnations and simply "pinks." Flowering through summer and late into autumn, they became popular cottage-garden plants, and Shakespeare must have trodden many a garden path made fragrant with these pretty blooms. In fact, I recently saw the above pink-and-white gillyflowers blooming near Stratford-upon-Avon, at the cottage Shakespeare visited more than 400 years ago when he went courting his wife-to-be, Anne Hathaway.



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