Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From Marie Antoinette's Garden: Delphinette

image: Delphinette

The gardens of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon were legendary for extraordinary beauty. Marie Antoinette adored flowers and her love for them is most apparent in the magnificent gardens she had cultivated in her name at Versailles and the Petit Trianon. The upcoming horticultural album, From Marie Antoinette's Garden, takes readers on a literary stroll through the most prominent of the flowers and plants found in the gardens of the queen.

One of the flowers that found its place in the world of Marie Antoinette was Delphinium ajacis (or Consolida ajacis). Delphinium ajacis is a native European flower commonly known in English as rocket larkspur. In 18th century France, it was known by charming names such as Delphinette, Pied d'Alouette, Eperon de Chevalier and Consoude royale, among others. Delphinette, the term typically used in France, for was originally derived from the Latin term for dolphin (delphin) which was a reference to the unique shape of the flower's buds.

Red, pink, white and blue variations were the most commonly cultivated colors in the 18th century; blue was highly favored for ornamental bouquets and gardens. Double-bloomed blue "delphinettes" were the most highly prized due to their color and unique appearance.

But Delphinette was not only used to beautify gardens and boudoirs. The plant, though toxic, was once believed to have curative properties. Distilled mixtures of Delphinette, made from its flowers boiled in rose water, were used as eye drops that were believed to treat conjunctivitis and inflammations. It was even used to treat kidney stones!

 image: Detail from a portrait of Marie Antoinette in court dress, circa 1778, by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.
credit: (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot

The flower was particularly favored by Marie Antoinette. It was specially planted in the French Garden, just to the west of Versailles. Delphinette is also featured in several of her portraits, including a formal court portrait by Vigée-Lebrun, where sprigs of the flower can be seen in a bouquet along with lilies, roses and narcissi.

image: blue rocket larkspur
credit: BotBin

The Delphinette, or rocket larkspur, is just one of the many flowers and plants to uncover in the upcoming publication, From Marie Antoinette's Garden by Elisabeth de Feydeu, set for publication on September 3rd, 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment