In the language of the flowers, a carnation can mean anything from a woman’s love (if it’s pink) to disdain (white), my heart aches for you (red) and capriciousness (purple).
But since the early 1900s it has, at least in most of North America, come to be the symbol of Mother’s Day and a mother’s love. I like to think it has something to do with the flower’s simple beauty, its enduring qualities – carnations are famously long-lasting and easy to care for – and its affordability, which makes it an obvious choice for children to give.
Here in the Okanagan, we have our own take on this sentimental bloom – the Lady Aberdeen Dianthus. A close cousin to the carnation (both are from the same species), the Lady Aberdeen Dianthus was named for the original mistress of Guisachan House in Kelowna, wife of Lord Aberdeen, Governor General of Canada from 1893-1898.
Developed by John Galbally at Kew Gardens in Eastbourne, Sussex, in England, the flower was gifted to Guisachan Garden in 1991. The Central Okanagan Heritage Society has exclusive rights to the flower and its sale.
Like the carnation, the Lady Aberdeen has a warm, clovey fragrance to its bloom. Its petals are ruffled and pink with maroon edges.
Sadly, you won’t find the plants for sale at the garden this year. A couple of harsh winters all but decimated the plants in the garden, and the current gardener, Carla Harrison, is currently working on re-propagating cuttings from what remains.
“They were so close to being lost,” said Lorainne McLarty, a Central Okanagan Heritage Society board member. “No one was propagating them, and a hard winter or two can just wipe them out.”
There remain six bunches in the garden. Originally, 500 clones were sent over.
To keep the true strain of the species, Carla explains, root cuttings have to be taken. Simply planting the seeds will cause the plant to revert back to its default colour and genetics, rather than producing the flower that distinguishes it.
The current scarcity made it difficult to photograph, but the Okanagan Heritage Society supplied two samples of artwork inspired by the Lady Aberdeen dianthus, created in 1991 by Earl Alistair Gordon, 6th Marquess and a descendant of Lord Aberdeen of Guisachan.
We are hopeful that next year The Pear Tree will be able to bring news of a new crop of Lady Aberdeen plants for sale – and hopefully in time for Mother’s Day. We can’t wait to get our hands on this local take of an enduring symbol of motherhood.
Happy Mother’s Day!
– Story by Lori-Anne Poirier
-Artwork by Alistair Gordon