Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Forget-Me-Not: A Sweet, A Lovely Flower

Myosotis sylvatica
There is a sweet, a lovely flower,
Tinged deep with faith’s unchanging hue,
Pure as the ether in its hour
Of loveliest and serenest blue.
The streamlet’s gentle side it seeks,
The silent fount, the shaded grot;
And sweetly to the heart it speaks—
Forget-me-not, forget-me-not.

-From My Flower Pot, Anonymous, c. 1850.

For centuries, Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis spp.) have been associated with sentiments of love and hopes for remembrance. According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known English use of the name was in 1532, so everyone agrees. Unfortunately, I can't find the instance. Anyway, there are several fanciful legends about how the name originated. They tell of lovers and nearly-forgotten plants that talk.

One story is related by Charles Mills in his book, The History of Chivalry, published 1844.

Two lovers were loitering on the margin of a lake, on a fine summer's evening, when the maiden espied some of the flowers of Myosotis growing on the water, close to the bank of an island, at some distance from the shore. She expressed a desire to possess them, when her knight, in the true spirit of chivalry, plunged into the water, and, swimming to the spot, cropped the wished-for plant, but his strength was unable to fulfil the object of his achievement, and feeling that he could not regain the shore, although very near it, he threw the flowers upon the bank, and casting a last affectionate look upon his lady-love, he cried, ' Forget-me-not,' and was buried in the waters.

They have sometimes been mentioned in literature.

Meanwhile apart, in the twilight gloom of a window's embrasure,
Sat the lovers, and whispered together, beholding the moon rise
Over the pallid sea and the silvery mist of the meadows.
Silently one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.

-From Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Naturally, Forget-Me-Nots are beloved because of their romantic associations, more so during Victorian times when "the language of flowers" was taken more seriously.

There may be more practical reasons for Myosotis to be called Forget-Me-Not. Once they get going, they re-seed themselves in abundance, so the gardener is often reminded of that moment when she first planted it. Most folks appreciate the appearance of more and more Forget-Me-Nots, but some do not. Another reason for the name might be that the seeds stick to clothing and pets.

The name, Myosotis (pronounced my-oh-SO-tis), actually means "mouse ear", referring to the shape and texture of the leaf. There are about 50 species. Some are annuals; some are perennials. Small flowers appear in spring, and range from white, pink to blue with yellow centers. Foliage is herbaceous, disappearing (or nearly so) in winter. The plants are biennial to perennial. Some are native to North America. Only a few are commercially available. Myosotis sylvatica (also known as Myosotis alpestris and Myosotis oblongata) is arguably the most popular.

M. sylvatica is hardy in USDA climate zones 3 to 8, thriving in light shade. Plant in loamy, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8., though Forget-Me-Nots are tolerant of wet soils. Space young plants 8 inches to 12 inches apart.

Deer and rabbits don't much like them, nor are Forget-Me-Nots prone to insect problems. Mildew can appear in unkempt, humid gardens where plant debris is left to accumulate.

Forget-Me-Nots often bloom the same time as tulips, narcissus, and hyacinth, filling the space between the bulbs with a profusion of soft, dainty flowers. They are suitable for planting in container gardens, rock gardens, in the fronts of borders, naturalizing and woodland gardens. Because they tolerate wet soils, they're also ideal for rain gardens. Forget-Me-Nots are perfect for theme gardens such as Victorian, Cottage gardens and children's gardens. For that romantic touch, don't forget to include Forget-Me-Nots in your plantings. You will be inspired.

“Forget me not:” no, lovely flow’r,
I’ll think on thee for many an hour:
If I could paint, I’d copy thee;
Then thou wouldst long remember’d be.
-From A Little Girl To Her Flowers In Verse, Anonymous, 1828.

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A. Joseph Marshall said...

It is a shame they don't re-seed themselves as prolifically as sand spurs...

GoGardenNow said...