Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 45

May/June 2014
43
Sir Thomas Roe, the Eng-
lish ambassador to both the
Mughal and the Ottoman
courts in the early 17th centu-
ry, sent home plants at the re-
quest of John Tradescant, head
gardener to various members
of the nobility, including
George Villiers, Duke of Buck-
ingham, and King Charles
I
.
This was a period marked
by great competition to pro-
duce the finest gardens with
the most unusual plants. Buck-
ingham asked merchants in
the Levant to send him any
exotic and unusual flowers
they could acquire. It is not surprising, therefore, that Trades-
cant was sent on missions to the Netherlands, from which he
introduced a num-
ber of plants that
had arrived from
the Middle East.
He also went on
an expedition to
Russia, and from
there he brought
back new species,
including the larch
and a type of pink
that was apparent-
ly highly scented.
(Sadly, Tradescant
could not vouch
for this himself:
He had no sense
of smell.)
Pinks had sym-
bolic importance
in Europe, and
they appear in
many paintings
and in the borders
of manuscripts,
but always as
small, flat flowers
with five petals.
The richly frilled
carnations beloved
of the Ottomans
were clearly different and
almost certainly cultivated,
probably as a hybrid from
the Mediterranean
Dianthus
caryophyllus
, since there are
no wild progenitors. These
pinks reached England from
Constantinople in the mid-
16th century and seem to have
been double-flowered, scarlet
and with the characteristic
clove scent.
Selective carnation breeding
began both in Ottoman gar-
dens and in the West. By the
early 1600’s there were dozens
of varieties—one English list
mentions 63, and the Turkish
Karanfil Risalesi
(
Carnation Trea-
tise
) illustrates some that were to provide the ancestors for the
modern carnation, which is today perhaps the most widely sold
flower in the world.
Taking advantage of the opportunity for further travel, in
1620 Tradescant volunteered for an expedition against the cor-
sairs of Algiers. The expedition was not a success, but he man-
aged to go ashore near Tétouan, Morocco, writing “that he saw
many acres of ground in Barbary spread over with the Corne
Flagge or Gladiolus.” Even into the late 20th century, fields of
the bright magenta
Gladiolus byzantinus
were still a spectacular
sight in North Africa.
The gladiolus family largely grows south of the Sahara, but
this species, which adapted well to the north, quickly became
popular, and it is the ancestor of the much larger garden gladi-
olus today. Surprisingly, it does not seem to have attracted atten-
tion among gardeners and artists in the Islamic world, perhaps
because it was associated not with gardens but with agricul-
ture—as a weed! Other spoils from this expedition included the
“Algiers apricot,” a variety superior to that known in England at
the time, and the wild pomegranate (the cultivated variety was
already known) “of an excellent bright crimson color, tending to
a silken carnation,” Tradescant writes.
During much of this time, all of these plants from the East
were also moving even farther west, carried by enterprising hor-
ticulturalists across the Atlantic to North and South America,
and often naturalized there. By the middle of the 18th century,
flowers that had been the pride of gardens in Constantinople,
Aleppo, Vienna and Leiden were becoming commonplace in Al-
exandria, Virginia, and nearby Georgetown.
Related articles at
Crocuses and saffron: S/O 13
Ottoman garden in St. Louis: N/D 10
Orchids in Arabia: S/O 06
Roses in Taif: N/D 97
Caroline Stone
(
divides her time
between Cambridge and Seville. Her latest book, Ibn Fadlan
and the Land of Darkness, translated with Paul Lunde from
the medieval Arab accounts of the lands in the Far North,
was published in 2011 by Penguin Classics.
This illustrated
album of Persian
poetry dates from
the early 18th
century, and this
folio shows a
damask rose set
among a spray of
fruit blossom,
violets and a scilla.
PRIVATE COLLECTION / CAROLINE STONE; OPPOSITE: WALTERS ART MUSEUM
“I VERY MUCH WANT TO BRING
SOMETHING BACK SOMETHING FINE,
FOR IT IS THE DUTY OF EVERYONE TO
ENRICH THEIR HOMELAND WHEN THEY
CAN WITH BEAUTIFUL THINGS FROM
ABROAD. AMONG OTHER THINGS, I THINK
THAT IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE FOR ME TO
FIND SOMETHING NEW IN THE WAY OF
FLOWERS, BECAUSE HERE THERE
ARE MANY AND THEY TAKE GREAT
INTEREST IN THEM.”
–Pietro della Valle in Istanbul, June 27, 1615
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