"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Kmart Pansy

Today my first coloured flower. A pretty pansy from Kmart after the exotic, if a bit gruesome, carrion cactus.
How can you not be completely charmed by these delicate and exquisitely coloured flowers. Their serious little nodding faces giving them their name and meaning, from the French "pensee", thought. We take them for granted in some ways because they are common and fairly hardy. There are a few struggling for survival in a nearby apartment block garden and I really want to rush out one night with a trowel and gather them all up for some TLC.

Modern pansies are related to the little blue violas which had been cultivated in Greece since the 4th Century B.C, mainly for medicinal purposes. The pansy, as we know it, was developed by Admiral Lord Gambier and his gardener William Thompson on the Gambier estate at Iver, Buckinghamshire in the 1800s. They crossed various violas gradually encouraging more pleasing patterns and larger blooms. The familiar blotch that gives the pansy much of its character was chance seedling which was developed into the variety Medora in 1839.
A darling of the Victorians, the pansy was celebrated in poetry, literature and the "Language of Flowers". Giving a bunch of flowers would became a minefield of innuendo and be heavy with significance. I am sure that many a budding romance must have been stopped dead in its tracks by the inclusion of an inappropriate flower.

Of course flowers were metaphors for the human condition well before the Victorian era. The significance of Shakespeare's references to flowers would have been easily understood by his audience.
Here is the wild pansy in Ophelia's famous "garland" speech from Hamlet:

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember.
And there is pansies, that's for thoughts,
There's fennel for you, and columbines.
There's rue for you, and here's some for me;
we may call it herb of grace o' Sundays.
O, you must wear your rue with a difference.
There's a daisy.
I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died;
they say he made a good end."

In "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Oberon drops a potion of wild pansy onto the eyelids of the sleeping Titania, he asks Puck to assist.

"Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees."

Everyone should have some of these sweet flowers, and love and cherish them.
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Pansy


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