October 21 2021
There is a flower that volunteered in my crushed granite path this year and since I wasn’t walking there much, I let it grow. Actually, I pretty much ignored it, it’s not a showy flower at all, and we all like those, don’t we? I had grown this one the year before, which was where the seed came from. By the end of summer it was a two foot circle of let’s say understated flowers and I was about to learn another one of those quiet lessons the gardens teach us.
The flower was mignonette, French for ‘little darling’ and this variety is called ‘Machet’, introduced in 1889. After two years of growing them (the second accidentally) I finally picked some of the flowers and brought them inside. I was instantly smitten-they have a fresh, clean scent that kind of reminds me of our fresh cut hayfields, one of my favorites. So there you go, sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious. It’s telling that in the Victorian language of flowers, mignonette means “your qualities surpass your charms”. I’ll take that to mean that the recipient of your flowers has so much more to offer beyond that skin deep beauty.
Mignonette was grown in Chelsea Botanical Garden in the mid 1700’s, but like many other flowers, more recent cultivars have lost some of their scent in pursuit of showier flowers. Though if you get a magnifying glass and have a close look at the tiny flowers, they are astoundingly intricate and beautiful. Clearly, there’s more to this “more than meets the eye” thing.
The genus name Reseda comes from the Latin word ‘resedare’ meaning ‘to assauge’ because it was thought to be good for healing bruises and pain. It’s not in any of my herb books, though, so I’m doubtful. It was also believed to have magical powers and ward off diseases spread through the air. I’d take that with a whole tub of salt. The ‘odoratus’ part of the name makes perfect sense though, as does the moral of the story.
You can take whatever you want from this plant tale, but I believe we grow along with our gardens, sometimes in ways we don’t notice at all and that’s ok, too. Nowhere is it written that one should go around taking moral lessons from gardening like some people I know (mea culpa). Just take that little darling in hand and breathe deep.
Mignonette, Reseda odorata, annual