Long live the queen’s (ordinary) flowers

For a plant lover, having a plant named for you would be a great honor, not to mention an excellent conversation starter. For a monarch who served as the head of state of 15 countries for seven decades, having plants named for you is an expected perk of the job, although one that probably doesn’t rank as high as access to jewel-encrusted crowns to suit a variety of occasions.

So I was surprised to find that the list of plants named for Queen Elizabeth II is much smaller than I anticipated. Of course, you can’t just name a plant for the queen. There is some sort of approval process required that I presume goes beyond sending an FTD bouquet to Buckingham Palace addressed to the monarch.

As you might expect, there are more roses named for the queen than any other variety of plant (and I’m only including those with her name, not those celebrating special occasions in her honor such as the daffodil called ‘Diamond Jubilee’ that was named in 2012).

The first, the floribunda rose ‘Queen Elizabeth’ was introduced in 1954 shortly after her coronation. ‘Queen Elizabeth II,’ a soft pink and light amber hybrid tea rose came later. Earlier this year, David Austin Roses introduced a rose registered as ‘Ausmajesty’ (in keeping with the company’s naming conventions) but trademarked as Elizabeth for her platinum jubilee. The shrub rose has pale pink to apricot flowers, and although it’s not available in the United States now, I suspect it will be soon. It’s the only rose of the three that is likely to survive a Wisconsin winter.

Perhaps the most revered plant named for the queen is Clematis montana ‘Elizabeth,’ which is known for its vigor, prolific blooms and light vanilla scent, although it is sadly not hardy for gardeners here.

There is also Rhododendron ‘Queen Elizabeth II,’ with primrose yellow flowers, and Camellia japonica ‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’ with salmon-pink flowers, neither of which we can grow.

Local admirers of the queen might have more success with Magnolia ‘Elizabeth,’ which sports beautiful pale yellow flowers and is said to be hardy here (although late frosts can take out the early blooming flowers).

Although all of these plants were named with the blessing of the royal family, I couldn’t find much evidence that the queen actually favored any of them. The distinction of her favorite flower is awarded to lily of the valley, which she carried in her 1953 coronation bouquet.

In gardens here, lily of the valley can be downright thuggish, but a garden friend in the UK tells me there it is “quite demure,” as you might expect for a flower that, like the queen, is a British native.

My British friend also mentioned that a source in the know reported that the queen always requested lilacs be included in arrangements when they were in bloom.

Both lilacs and lily of the valley are garden stalwarts, faithfully blooming year after year. You could even describe them as loyal and reliable, much like the queen who loved them over all the frilly and fussy flowers named for her.

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