Sandy’s Garden ... Appleringie

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I was browsing through my collection of books about gardens recently.

Books relating to gardening, to the cultivation of plants of every description, to trees and shrubs and to wildflowers in dread anticipation of having to empty the room which houses this collection to allow the painter, the carpet-fitter and the curtain-hanger uncluttered access.

I came across this in Marian Green’s A Calendar of Festivals, published by Element Books in 1991. Writing of the preparations for the coming winter which our ancestors used to make during the month of October, the author penned these words, “Lavender and Lad’s Love would be laid among stored linens and clothes to sweeten them and deter insects.”

Now lavender I have heard of and do know (and, since my understanding of written plant names is that they do not merit initial capitals, I shall use lower case letters throughout). But, although I have read the book before, it occurred to me this time that I have no recollection of having met the name ‘lad’s love’ before; and this thought inspired me to seek to discover more. Geoffrey Grigson’s masterly volume The Englishman’s Flora does not include this name in its pretty comprehensive list of local names: nor does Tess Darwin’s The Scots Herbal. Reference to Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers draws another blank: but I find this headline on the internet site of the National Gardens of Scotland – “Appleringie; Artemisia abrotanum, family Compositae; Season: May to October; Associations: Birth, Marriage, Death.” (And yes, I do notice the initial capital letters in plant names and also in birth, marriage and death; and I certainly would not use initial capitals at these words.)

So lad’s love is also known … in Scotland … as appleringie, a name I remember my mother using during my childhood, and a name which I accepted then without any inclination to discover which plant she was speaking of. But now I learn, from Wikipedia, that Artemisia abrotanum is, “a species of flowering plants in the sunflower family. It is native to Eurasia and Africa but naturalized in scattered locations in North America. Other common names include: old man, boy’s love, wormwood, lover’s plant, appleringie, garderobe, Our Lord’s wood, maid’s ruin, garden sagebrush, European sage, sitherwood and lemon plant.” (I observe that Wikipedia does not use initial capital letters.) And it comes as no surprise to learn that a plant which has, among many others, the common name garderobe … from the Old French garder, to keep, and robe - and, gentle reader, I think you can work out what that word means for yourself! … is used to discourage insects from making their homes in stored textiles, be they clothes or household linens, its strong camphor-like odour acting as an effective deterrent. (To digress entirely for a moment, the word ‘garderobe’ is also a term used in the context of castles to describe a combination of wardrobe and latrine, the idea being that the smell of the decaying human sewage would drive out the insect life which inhabited seldom-washed clothing; what the wearer of the clothing smelled like is best left to the imagination!)

Anyway, my mother used to lay appleringie … which I now know is a Scots name for lad’s love … in our wardrobes in October. But where did the name appleringie come from if the plant has nothing to do with apples? Well, John Jamieson, the author of An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, published by John Johnstone in Edinburgh in 1841,

says that appleringie is derived from two Old French words - apile, meaning ‘strong’, and auronne, ‘southernwood’, which itself derives from abrotanum in the plant’s botanical name Artemisia abrotanum. And the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France seems to me to be a wholly satisfactory explanation of how ‘appleringie’ came from Old French into Scots.