Why Carnations Are The Official Mother’s Day Flower

For those of you who think Mother’s Day was created by Hallmark, the real story is much more poignant. It all sprang from a daughter’s love for her mother, the trials of war and a gift of 500 white carnations.

IT ALL BEGAN IN WEST VIRGINIA

It all began in 1905 when Anna Jarvis lost her mother. She and her mother had been very close during Anna’s lifetime. Consumed by grief, Anna made a solemn vow. She pledged to establish a national day to honor her mother and all mothers for the positive contributions they made to society.

Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, had raised her family in the mid 1800’s and had suffered great hardship. Of the 12 children she gave birth to, only four survived. The others died from diseases common at the time, including measles, typhoid and diphtheria. 

MOTHERS HELPING MOTHERS 

But despite having suffered so much loss, Anna’s mother was stout-hearted. In the 1850s, she began organizing coalitions of mothers from across West Virginia to combat childhood illness. The women raised money for medicines, inspected food and milk and provided nursing care for those who were sick. 

The coalitions became known as the Mothers Day Work Clubs.

Ann Reeves Jarvis

And when the Civil War broke out in 1861, the mothers acted as volunteer nurses, caring for soldiers of both the Confederate and Union armies.

Mother’s Day Work Club members took care of all soldiers

Even after the war, the clubs continued to be a unifying force. In 1868, Jarvis organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day, which brought together mothers of former foes and encouraged reconciliation among area families.

ANNA JARVIS AND 500 WHITE CARNATIONS

Shortly after Ann’s death, her daughter Anna organized a memorial at her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia. During the service, she passed out 500 white carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) to all the mothers in attendance. With this unofficial inauguration, Anna began writing letters to national, state and local politicians to gain their support for a Mother’s Day movement. 

And unbelievably, in just a little over a decade later, 46 states and many foreign countries, including Canada and Mexico, were holding Mother’s Day celebrations. Then in 1912, Anna began campaigning for international recognition of the day.

Finally in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made things official. He signed Proclamation 1268, which created a national Mother’s Day as A public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.

Letter signed by President Woodrow Wilson establishing Mother’s Day

The second Sunday in May became the official day of celebration. And the wearing of a white carnation, Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower, became a tradition.

THE CONTROVERSY OVER MOTHER’S DAY CARDS

Anna Jarvis’ originally intended for Mother’s Day to be a personal celebration between mothers and their families (this is why Mother’s takes the singular possessive and not the plural). She imagined it as a time when millions would visit their mothers and write personal, hand written notes expressing their love and affection.

Vintage Mother’s Day card

With the official recognition of the holiday, however, florists, card companies and other merchants began jumping on the bandwagon. Jarvis became more and more enraged as she watched Mother’s Day drift further and further away from her original idea. And nothing upset her more than the growth in popularity of the printed Mother’s Day card. She wrote,

A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. 

By 1920, Jarvis had become so upset over the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she launched a campaign to abolish the holiday. Declaring Mother’s Day a failure, she organized boycotts and threatened lawsuits to stop others from profiting off of the day.

In 1923, she even filed suit against the Governor of New York over a Mother’s Day celebration. When the court rejected her plea, she formed a protest and was arrested for disturbing the peace. She devoted the remainder of her life to fighting against the very day she had established.

Jarvis died, childless, in 1948 at the age of 84. She is buried next to her mother in Philadelphia.

THE ROLE OF CARNATIONS

Yet a century later, Jarvis’ legacy lives on in our annual Mother’s Day celebration. And there’s no doubt that carnations have become the official Mother’s Day flower. In her day the carnations were white, but since then pink and red colors have also become popular.

In fact, today it is generally believed that pink carnations represent gratitude while red ones signify admiration. And white carnations are now reserved for honoring a mother who is no longer living.

Red carnations signify admiration

Despite Jarvis’ later efforts, every U.S. president since 1914 has issued an official Presidential Mother’s Day Proclamation recognizing and honoring America’s mothers. And today, the custom is celebrated all over the world (albeit on different days.)

On a personal note, I like receiving printed cards and flowers on Mother’s Day, but have to agree with Jarvis that nothing beats a hand-written note from your child. I’m lucky enough to receive such letters each and every year.

Wishing all of you a very happy Mother’s Day!

 

Why Lily of the Valley Is The Official May Day Flower

Years ago, I was living in Paris when there was a knock at the door followed by the sound of running footsteps. Opening the door, I discovered a basket of tiny white flowers on my doorstep. Little did I know, I had just received a gift of lilies of the valley, a flower exchanged each year in France on the first of May.

A ROYAL HISTORY

In France, lily of the valley (or muguet in French) has been given as a gift for centuries. Legend has it that the custom started on May 1, 1561 when King Charles IX received a sprig of the tiny flower as a token of good luck.

The King liked the idea so much that he decided to start a tradition. From that day forward on the first of May, he presented a bouquet of lilies of the valley to each of the ladies of his court. And thus began in France the Fête du Muguet, otherwise known as May Day. 

Portrait of King Charles IX

MAY’S MOST CELEBRATED FLOWER

Over the centuries, lily of the valley has become one of May’s most celebrated flowers. And for good reason. Depending on climate, it typically blooms in mid April and retains its blossoms for most of May. The species itself is small in size, averaging only 6″ tall.  Each plant has a pair of upright, sword-like leaves and a single stalk of sweetly scented, white or pink bell-shaped flowers. 

Still, for what it lacks in size, lily of the valley rapidly makes up for in numbers. When given ample shade, it will form low, thick masses of bright evergreen color, making it the perfect complement to other shade-loving perennials.  

THE STORY OF LILY OF THE VALLEY AND THE NIGHTINGALE

Once upon a time, the very first lily of the valley was in love with a nightingale. Every night, the nightingale would come to her garden to sing. However, the lily of the valley was shy and hid herself from the bird. So after a while, he grew lonely and flew away.

Alone in the garden, the lily of the valley waited in vain for the nightingale to return. Eventually, she grew so sad that she stopped blooming. She started flowering again only after the nightingale reappeared (in May) and her happiness was restored.

A SYMBOL OF ROMANCE

In the early 20th century in France, men often gave bouquets of lilies of the valley as tokens of affection. They presented their gifts, in accordance with tradition, on the first of May. In their absence, they sent romantic postcards featuring pictures of the flower accompanied by wishes of good luck. French people still practice the card-sending ritual today.

A vintage Fête du Muguet card

A NATIONAL HOLIDAY IN FRANCE

These days in France, the first of May coincides with National Labor Day. As a result, the Fête du Muguet is a public holiday. In the days leading up to the event, lilies of the valley are sold from roadside stands that pop up all over the country. And while it’s normally forbidden to sell flowers on public streets, the ban is lifted on May 1 in honor of this long-standing tradition.

Photo credit/Shutterstock.com

HOW TO GROW LILY OF THE VALLEY

Easy-to-grow lilies of the valley are indigenous to temperate climates and are believed to have originated in Japan. Spreading by tiny rhizomes underground, they naturalize easily and can quickly become invasive in the garden. Unless you’re up for continually digging them out to control them, it’s best to plant the flowers in their native woodland or in a contained area in the yard.

And like most shade-loving plants, lilies of the valley prefer moist, well-drained loamy soil. Never plant them in full sun. If you do, their bright green leaves will lose their color and turn ugly shades of brown. 

DON’T EAT THEM

Finally, you may be surprised to learn that all parts of the lily of the valley are toxic if eaten. So when handling the flowers, it’s best to wear gloves to prevent any residue from being transmitted to food. Symptoms of lily of the valley poisoning include stomachache and blurred vision.

To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

 

 

Six Secrets From Bunny Mellon’s Garden

Bunny Mellon never formally studied landscaping; yet she grew to be one of the most celebrated gardeners in America. Her list of accomplishments is staggering, ranging from installations on family properties in Virginia, Nantucket and Antigua, to private residences in Paris, to the White House Rose Garden. There is much to be learned from her trial-and-error approach to horticulture. And now, a new book entitled Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon offers a glimpse into how she developed her aesthetic while providing readers with practicable tips on design. Continue reading

When To Cut Back Daffodil Foliage

Once the flowers have quit, daffodil foliage can get pretty ugly. Nevertheless, it’s critical to the health of the bulb to let the leaves yellow. Removing leaves prematurely may neaten things up, but come spring you’ll have far fewer flowers. And everyone knows daffodils look best in big numbers. Continue reading

Why Star Magnolia Deserves A Spot In Your Garden

When it comes to stunning, early-blooming trees, it’s hard to beat the star magnolia. Every March, it showers the landscape in a flush of bright white. For what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in stature. I love how the blossoms hang like fallen stars from its smooth, bare branches.

THE SMALL GARDEN’S MAGNOLIA

Now, even small gardens can have a magnolia! What’s more, star magnolia is slow-growing, so it won’t overwhelm your landscape. Topping out at a manageable 10 to 15 feet, it makes an excellent specimen tree while also providing a great backdrop to any mixed shrub border. 

Yet for all that, the tree’s most valuable asset, in most people’s view, is its early spring blossoms. Typically flowering in early March, the star magnolia is lush with blooms when most other ornamentals are scarcely starting to bud. Moreover, the flowers are fragrant. Each is composed of more than a dozen ribbon-like petals. And some varieties boast as many as 30.

And while star magnolias are typically associated with white flowers, there are also a number of pink varieties. All are magnets for pollinators, which gives your other plants an early start on the season.

FOR STAR MAGNOLIAS, THE SHOW NEVER STOPS

But, for those who think star magnolias are all about spring, think again. The little trees offer fall and winter interest as well. In autumn, the foliage turns yellow, then bronze, providing an interesting complement to other fall colors.

And star magnolia’s twiggy, many-branched shape provides great winter interest. Colored a shiny, chestnut brown, the branches contrast handsomely with the tree’s smooth gray trunk, which slowly turns silver with age. As an added plus, the buds, appearing in late winter, are fat and fuzzy, just like pussy willows. 

TOP STAR MAGNOLIA VARIETIES TO TRY

Ready to give star magnolia a try? Below are some the most popular cultivars that offer reliable, low-maintenance early spring color. Deciduous magnolias are best planted when dormant, typically in late fall.

‘Centennial’ produces fragrant, waterlily-shaped blossoms in early to mid spring. The large white flowers often have a pink tinge at the base of the petals. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’

‘Jane Platt’ produces double, scented, pale pink flowers with long, narrow petals in early to mid spring.

Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’

‘Royal Star’ has pale pink buds that open in early spring to pure white flowers. In particular, this cultivar is known for its almost 5-inch (12 cm) wide flowers with up to 30 petals. ‘Royal Star’ blooms later than the species. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

‘Rosea’ is a pink-flowered variety. It has a rounded shape and dense bushy habit. This cultivar flowers a month later than the species, or in late April. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’

HOW AND WHERE TO PLANT

Star magnolia flowers are vulnerable to damage by late spring frosts, so it’s best to plant the trees in a sheltered spot. While they’ll do fine in full sun, they’ll perform best in morning sun with filtered shade in the afternoon. Generally, the more exposed the location, the earlier the flowers open. Like most plants, star magnolias prefer moist, well-drained soil. 

Magnolia stellata really shines when viewed against a dark background. Site it in front of a stand of deep green arborvitae, a yew hedge or even a dark brick house and watch its flowers ‘pop.’  Daffodils with cream or white petals and yellow cups make excellent early-spring companions. Check out Narcissus ‘Sovereign’, Golden Echo’ or the orange-cupped ‘Barrett Browning’ for a dramatic effect.

To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

Plant Trends 2021: What’s New for Spring

Even in the world of gardening, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. And to do so, one need look no further than Kathy Jentz. As editor and publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine, her depth of plant knowledge is incredible. Recently I attended her talk on the biggest plant trends for 2021 during which she highlighted some key things to look out for this spring. 

SIMPLIFICATION IS KEY

These days, the overriding theme is simplification. Unless you’re up for the task, who wants to buy a plant that needs weekly spraying or constant pruning to keep it in bounds? Jentz says consumers want their plants to bloom longer, have greater disease resistance and be able to stand up to drought and other factors due to climate change. And growers are rising to the challenge.

Indeed, growers are answering the call by engaging in greater hybridization to propagate desirable characteristics such as color, size and vigor. Here are four plant trends Jentz says are rocking today’s industry. 

TINY PLANT TREND

Plants are scaling down – think dwarf evergreens, smaller shrubs, and more compact and manageable perennial species. Not only are these new hybrids better suited for smaller gardens, but they also require less maintenance while flowering longer. (And for growers, they look better on the shelves.) Teeny tiny houseplants like terrariums plants and tiny succulents are also gaining in popularity.

Teeny tiny cacti getting ready for market

DAY LENGTH NEUTRAL PLANTS

Day length neutral (D/L) refers to plants that flower independent of day length. In other words, unlike short-day plants that flower in spring and long-day plants that flower in summer, these plants will flower all season long. That means that if you want to grow sunflowers in early spring or late fall when days are shorter, all you need to do is choose a day length neutral variety. 

plant trends D/L neutral sunflowers

D/L neutral sunflowers extend the growing season

ENVIRONMENTAL SUITABILITY

These days, you can’t be too sure of the environment. So growers are responding by introducing plants that exhibit higher degrees of drought tolerance and disease resistance. Some varieties have even been bred to stand up to wind, wet weather and road salt, providing more options for the home gardener.

monarda didyma

Many new monarda hybrids exhibit greater disease resistance

NEW BRANDING OF FRUITS AND VEGGIES

For those of us who dislike having to cut up an entire melon to consume only a few pieces, say hello to personal snack-able fruits and veggies. Helo Clementines and Hello Melon are two great examples of this 2021 plant trend. Personal-sized fruits and veggies make it easier for consumers to eat healthy food with less wastage. Now you really can have your melon and eat it too.

Hello Melon’s small size makes snacking easy

TEN TRENDING PLANTS FOR 2021

Ready to make your list? Here are some trending plants Jentz profiled for 2021 that I’ll be looking for at the nursery. 

Whispurr Pink Nepeta – This soft pink hybrid is a little bit taller than ‘Walker’s Low’ and it blooms all summer.

Whispurr Pink Nepeta/Photo: darwinperennials.com

Panicum virgatum ‘Purple Tears’ – An introduction from Pete Oudolf who discovered this native species in a nursery plot in the Netherlands, ‘Purple Tears’ switchgrass produces soft gray flowering spikes followed by striking purple seed heads. Narrow and upright, it grows to about 4′. Available through Hoffman Nursery of North Carolina. 

Purple Tears switchgrass/Photo: Hoffman Nursery

Begonia Lunar Lights ‘Silver Moon’  Forest green leaves flecked with silver and mint green make this perennial a stand-out in the shade garden. Available through Plants Nouveau. 

Begonia Lunar Light ‘Silver Moon’/Photo: Plants Nouveau

Swan Queen Gardenia – Bred to be hardy in our region (Zone 7), this variety with glossy evergreen leaves and double white blooms can stay outdoors all winter. It also is resistant to white fly and other diseases that usually affect this plant. Available through most area nurseries. 

Swan Queen Gardenia/Photo: monrovia.com

Brunnera ‘Alexandria’ – Not to be confused with the green and white variety ‘Alexander the Great’, ‘Alexandria’ looks like a silver mirror in the garden and has the biggest leaves yet of the species. Tiny clusters of sky-blue flowers float above the iridescent foliage in early spring. 

Brunnera ‘Alexandria’/Photo: monrovia.com

Forsythia ‘Believe it or Not’ is a one-of-a kind variety developed from a plant found at McCorkle Nurseries Inc in Dearing, Georgia. In addition to golden flowers, it has variegated gold foliage which means you can enjoy yellow color from spring until fall. A mid-sized shrub that thrives in sun to part shade from the Gardener’s Confidence Collection

Yellow leaves of Forsythia Believe It Or Not/Photo: The Gardener’s Confidence Collection

Celosia Kelos ‘Candela Pink’ – If you like things hot, this plant is for you.  The 2021 All-America Selections (AAS) Flower Winner, its bright pink blooms prompted one judge to name it the ‘Energizer Bunny.’ This selection is bred to keep its color all season long and it also makes an excellent dried flower. 

Celosia Kelos ‘Candela Pink’/Photo: all-americaselections.org

Ready-To-Grow Clematis – Clematis has a reputation for being difficult. But these new varieties introduced by Spring Hill Nursery are out to change that opinion. Their stronger root systems reduce transplant shock; they can be popped right into the ground. And they offer improved flower production. Check out ‘Chloe’, a non-vining bush-like variety with purple-blue flowers. 

Clematis ‘Chloé’ available through Spring Hill Nursery

Coleus Main Street Beale Street A spectacular new variety that holds its deep red color all season long, this coleus won’t fade or bleach over the summer. It forms a compact 2 ½’ x 3’ ball, and since its flowers don’t appear until very late in the season, there’s no need to deadhead. Available through Premier Growers Inc. 

Coleus Main Street Beale Street/Photo: premiergrowersinc.com

Petite Knock Out Rose – This variety is the first-ever miniature version of the popular Knock Out Rose series. Topping out at just 18″ tall, it exhibits the same flower power and easy care as the rest of the species.

Petite Knock Out Rose/Photo: knockoutroses.com

Marigold Big Duck Yellow Huge, double-flower balls make this semi-dwarf variety a stand-out. Also available in orange, Big Ducks spread like a carpet and are extremely heat tolerant. Available through ameriseed.net.

Big Duck Yellow/Photo: ameriseed.net

Poppy ‘Amazing Grey’ This showstopper has lavender grey tissue paper-like petals with a pinky-red center. Some flowers also have a white edge. En masse, the double and single blooms look like grey clouds hovering in the garden. Available through Wild Seed Farms.

Amazing Grey Poppy/Photo: wildseedfarms.com

Author’s note: All links to seed and plant purveyors are unpaid and reflect only my recommendations. 

Cover photo of Clematis florida Alba Plena courtesy shutterstock.com.

 

Drink To Your Health With These 10 Medicinal Teas

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Now that temperatures are dropping and we’re spending more time indoors, almost nothing beats a cup of hot tea. And aside from the warm and cozy feeling a steaming mug evokes, tea has never looked better. That’s because many ‘true’ and herbal teas contain powerful antioxidants and other substances that are great for human health. So before opening the medicine cabinet, why not explore the benefits of medicinal tea? Continue reading

Show Me The Money Tree

After this past year, we could all use a little extra luck. And happily, as gardeners, we need look no further than the Chinese New Year for inspiration. Among the many auspicious symbols for 2021 is this year’s lucky plant, the money tree, or Pachira aquatica. According to feng shui principles, it could ensure a prosperous year ahead. Continue reading

Cyclamen Care: Four Keys To Success Indoors

For me, one of the highlights of December is the arrival in stores of all those winter-blooming cyclamen. Along with poinsettias, they are my favorite cold-season flowers. There’s just one problem. After a couple of weeks, the plants’ stems often start to droop and the leaves may even turn yellow. But there’s a solution! All it takes is an understanding of where cyclamen come from, and why temperature is key to their success indoors. Continue reading