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Paul’s Garden Journal 1

A Rose for a Mistress to “Love and Cherish”

After the Norman conquest of England the English language began to incorporate many Norman or Latin words. Typically since the Normans were in positions of power and the Anglo-Saxons were the workers and servants many of the cruder words remained Anglo Saxon but the refined words were Norman French. So Anglo Saxon “cow and sheep” when served for dinner became the Norman “beef and mutton.”

Eventually the Normans and Anglo-Saxons became one society, and English tried a linguistic reconciliation between the older Anglo-Saxon words and the newer Norman French words. This is why today we have so many modern English phrases that still include a word from Norman French alongside a synonymous Anglo-Saxon: “law and order”, “lord and master”, “ways and means”, and even “love and cherish.” And “love and cherish” is perhaps a most fitting dual phrase here.

For it is believed that the Normans brought with them from France or Gaul, a rose, which we shall see, also plays a doublet. This was the “Apothecary's Rose”, and because it came from Gaul is known to botanists as “Rosa gallica officinalis.”

This rose made its way to King Henry II and his wife Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. King Henry II had a mistress, Jane Clifford, later referred to as “The Fair Rosamond.” Jealous Queen Eleanor made up a poison to give her husband’s mistress. The Queen disguised the poison with the oil of the Apothecary’s Rose and the white rose, Rosa alba.

The poison worked and poor Jane Clifford died. After her death, a defiant new rose sprouted outside the castle, and this rose had both red and white stripes, having taken the red from the apothecary rose and the white from Rosa alba. In honor of King Henry II’s mistress, The Fair Rosamond, this striped rose was named “Rosa mundi.”

Rosa mundi is just one of several varieties or genetic “sports” of the Apothecary’s Rose. Other Gallica roses include “Alain Blanchard” which is crimson mottled with purple. “Cardinal de Richelieu” has pink buds that open to a striking grape purple. Apothecaries dispensed this Apothecary’s Rose to treat indigestion, sore throats, skin rashes and sore eyes. It was believed that the petals would eliminate wrinkles when rubbed on the skin. Indeed roses contain essential oils, as well as potassium and iron.

The Apothecary's Rose blooms with beautiful very dark pink semi-double, 3-inch flowers that surround bright golden stamens. It only blooms once a year, usually in early summer on a three to four foot erect shrub. It is quite hardy, able to grow in USDA zones 4-9. Plant in early spring, being sure to tamp the soil down around the roots. These roses are available from any sources including Heirloom Roses, 24062 NE Riverside Drive, St. Paul, Oregon 97137, Telephone: (503) 538-1576.

Most of the Gallica roses are shade tolerant, in fact due to their wild heritage are among the least fussy roses you can grow. They tolerate poor soils and do well in the rough air and sandy soils of coasts and beaches. And amazingly, they are almost thornless.

But it is the long lasting fragrance that makes the Apothecary rose special. To dry rose petals pick the blooms just before noon and spread the petals out to dry on paper out of direct sunlight. These rose petals will retain their fragrance for years. It’s been said that we have memories so that we might enjoy roses in winter, but with the Apothecary rose you can do better, for unlike poor mistress Jane Clifford, you can even smell the roses.

Copyright (c) 2008 Paul Barbano