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The Myth behind the Columbine

The French garden book called in its English translation The Retir’d Gardner first appeared in 1706.

The purpose for the translation was to help English gardeners learn from the French who showed a passion for flower gardens in the seventeenth century.

The book’s English translators were Henry Wise and George London, owners of a famous nursery on Brompton Park, started by London in 1681.

The book appeared in two volumes.

The second volume covered the care and planting of many flowers, described in detail. [Below]

Wise and London gave the full title as The Retir’d Gardner, in Two Volumes: the Whole Revis’d, with Several Alterations and Additions, Which Render It Proper for Our English Culture.

Topics in the book included soil preparation, using correct garden tools, and what time of the year is best for planting a particular flower, shrub, or tree.

Many familiar flowers are listed as well.

What I enjoyed is the ‘history’ of a particular plant, often filled with Greek and Roman mythology.

History of the Columbine or Aquilegia

Here is an edited version of the mythical origin of one flower, the aquilegia or columbine.

It all began with the god Jupiter.

Jupiter happened to be walking on the Caspian Seashore where he met a Nymph, whose name was Moria.

Moria having some inclination to be a Goddess, did whatever Jupiter would have her.

“In due course of time the Nymph brought forth Ancolia, who being the Daughter of a God, grew as fair as a Goddess.

“And was courted by all the Youth of the Neighborhood.

Ganimede was in Love with her.

“However, she preferrred his Eagle to him.

“Ganimede could not bear the ill Usage he met with from Ancolia.

“He hid his Rival, the Eagle, from the Virgin’s View, who pinning for want of the sight of him, dy’d of Grief and Melancholly.

Jupiter turned her into a Flower.

“Observing that as she blow’d in the Spring, part of her Leaves grew like the Beak of an Eagle.

“(So firmly was the Image of that Bird fix’d in her Heart.)

‘He order’d that Ancolia should be call’d Aquilegia, from Aquila an Eagle, his own Imperial Bird.”

Familiar flowers

The authors offer a mythical origin for most of the dozens of flowers presented in the book.

It was fun to read these stories of gods and goddesses.

What is most amazing, however, is how popular most of the flowers from the seventeenth century The Retir’d Gardner still are today.

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