I never promised you a rose garden

Yesterday I posted four birthday presents to  me, appealing to various parts of my life: a penguin, language, comics/cartoons, and the the lgbt angle (plus food). And then came a wonderful language-and-plants offering, from an old friend: a “rose garden”.


Some actual roses (of the genus Rosa), plus primrose, Christmas rose, tuberose, and rosemary (none of them roses at all or botanically close to them or (for the most part) with names etymologically related to rose. A wonderful conceit.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, on the title of this posting. It starts with

a 1964 semi-autobiographical novel of a teenage girl’s battle with schizophrenia by Joanne Greenberg (link)

which then was the basis for a 1977 film and a 2004 play. The title was then used for a country music song, “(I Never Promised  You a) Rose Garden”:

best known as recorded by country music singer Lynn Anderson [and then covered by many others]. Her October 1970 release topped the U.S. Billboard country chart for five weeks, reached No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop chart and hit number one on both Cash Box’s and Record World’s pop and country singles charts. The song was also a major pop hit internationally, topping the charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway and reaching the top three in the UK and South Africa. (link)

True roses. The generic name Rosa is taken from Latin. There are many species. I’ve posted several times on wild roses: 12/9/13 on “eglantine rose”; 12/10/13 on “More wild roses”; and 6/3/14 on “Plant life by public transport” (#3 there). But the roses in #1 above are about as far from wild roses as you can get: hybrid tea roses. From Wikipedia:

Hybrid tea is an informal horticultural classification for a group of garden roses. They were created by cross-breeding two types of roses, initially by hybridising Hybrid Perpetuals with Tea roses. It is the oldest group classified as a modern garden rose.

Hybrid teas exhibit traits midway between both parents, being hardier than the often quite tender teas (although not as hardy as the hybrid perpetuals), and more inclined to repeat-flowering than the somewhat misleadingly-named hybrid perpetuals (if not quite as ever-blooming as the teas).

Catherine Deneuve on the left, Henry Fonda on the right (my friend remarks that, as far as he knows, they never acted together):

C.D., Meilland 1981:


H.F., Christensen 1996:


Hybrid tea digression. My man Jacques was a great rose fancier, and occasionally brought hybrid tea plants for our garden back from the Columbus Park of Roses, where he worked as a volunteer. The hardiest of these, and his all-time favorite, was Mister Lincoln (Swim & Weeks 1964):


A Mister Lincoln watches over his ashes in Maine.

On with the non-Rosas. First, primroses, discussed on this blog here. The rose in the name comes from a perceived similarity between rose and primrose flowers (primrose is a resembloid composite).

Then the Christmas rose. From Wikipedia:

Commonly known as hellebores …, members of the Eurasian genus Helleborus comprise approximately 20 species of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae … The scientific name Helleborus derives from the Greek name for H. orientalis “helleboros”; “elein” to injure and “bora” food. Many species are poisonous. Despite names such as “Winter Rose”, “Christmas rose” and “Lenten rose”, hellebores are not closely related to the rose family (Rosaceae).

… Hellebores are widely grown in gardens for decorative purposes. They are particularly valued by gardeners for their winter and early spring flowering period [hence, winter, Christmas, or Lenten rose]; the plants are surprisingly frost-resistant and many are evergreen.


(Hellbores come in white, dusky purple, and green.)

Again, a “rose” from the similarity of hellbore flowers to rose flowers.

Next, the tuberose, whose name has nothing to do with roses at all. From Wikipedia:

The tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) is a perennial plant related to the agaves, extracts of which are used as a middle note in perfumery. The common name derives from the Latin tuberosa, meaning swollen or tuberous in reference to its root system. Polianthes means “many flowers” in Greek.

… The tuberose is a night-blooming plant native to Mexico


(The flowers are white, either single, as above, or double.)

And, finally, rosemary, where (again) the name has nothing to do with roses. From Wikipedia:

Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly known as rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea”.

… Rosemary is an aromatic evergreen shrub that has leaves similar to hemlock needles. The leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffings and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, but is reasonably hardy in cool climates. It can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods.

The plant flowers in spring and summer in temperate climates, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates; flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue.


(A sprig of rosemary, with some flowers.)

The plant grows all over the place here in Northern California, where it’s sturdy, fragrant, and drought-resistant.

But wait! There’s more!  Starting with a non-plant thing, the color rose. From Wikipedia, which here is ridiculously reliant on technical (rather than ordinary-language) definitions:

Rose is the color halfway between red and magenta on the HSV [or RGB] color wheel

… The first recorded use of rose as a color name in English was in 1382.

The etymology of the color name rose is the same as that of the name of the rose flower.

(The article has many references to the use of the color word.)

Then the timber rosewood. On this blog, discussion of various “rosewoods”, including jacaranda. From Wikipedia:

Rosewood refers to any of a number of richly hued timbers, often brownish with darker veining but found in many different hues.

All genuine rosewoods belong to the genus Dalbergia. The pre-eminent rosewood appreciated in the Western world is the wood of Dalbergia nigra […,] now a CITES listed endangered species. It is best known as Brazilian Rosewood, but also as “Bahia Rosewood.” This wood has a strong sweet smell, which persists over the years, explaining the name “rosewood”.

So now: the smell.

And also on this blog, the “rose family” of plants (of which Rosa is the type genus), taking in a variety of stone fruit trees and nut trees, whose flowers are similar to roses.

And on this blog, on “Abutilon and its relatives”, on plants in the mallow family (with Malva as its type genus), in particular rose mallow (presumably so-called from its color) and rose of Sharon (now Hibiscus syriacus) so-called because of some plant from the ancient Holy Land with flowers (to some observers) resembling roses.


2 Responses to “I never promised you a rose garden”

  1. More wild roses | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 9/9/14, after I posted "I never promised you a rose garden". From Chris Waigl (in Fairbanks AK) on […]

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    My friend Ned Deily is given to claiming that all flowers are roses — or possibly that rose is a synonym of flower. So he can ask, “What kind of rose is that?”, of, say, a yarrow plant.

    My first father-in-law, Keene Daingerfield, back when he trained racehorses, had a stableman who maintained that he could recognize only two flowers, roses and daisies, and wasn’t always sure which was which.

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