The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge began their nine day Diamond Jubilee tour of Singapore, Malaysia, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands today with a visit to Singapore Botanical Gardens. William and Catherine admired an orchid named for Diana, Princess of Wales, which she had intended to view herself at the time of her death in 1997. To commemorate their visit, the royal couple were presented with a special white and purple hybrid orchid named the Vanda William Catherine in honour of their marriage. The Diana and William Catherine orchids join the dozens of flowers, and a few vegetables, named in honour of royal occasions.
William’s great-great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII achieved immortality in the garden through the development of the King Edward potato, one of the oldest varieties still in cultivation today. Following the disastrous blight that precipitated the Irish potato famine in 1840s, attempts were made to develop more disease resistant varieties. In 1902, John Butler of Scotter, Lincolnshire derived a white skinned, pink coloured potato from the Rough Purple Chili potato that predominated in nineteenth century Ireland. The new potato was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1902, the year of King Edward VII’s coronation. Butler therefore named his new spud, “The King Edward potato” in honour of this royal occasion. This hardy vegetable was a staple of British diets during the food rationing of the Second World War and is now considered one of the best potatoes for making gnocchi.
The 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is not the first royal wedding to inspire a new kind of flower. When the future King Edward VII’s brother, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh married Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia in 1874, florists George Jackman & Son developed a new flower, which they named the “Duchess of Edinburgh” clematis in honour of the bride. The most spectacular modern display of these royal flowers is in the white garden at Sissinghurst Castle, designed by Vita Sackville West.
Queen Elizabeth II’s sister, Princess Margaret Rose, naturally inspired botanists to develop new varieties bearing a name that was both royal and floral. The pink Camellia japonica or winter rose ‘Princess Margaret’ flowers honoured the Princess. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother cultivated varieties of this flower in her own garden and these “Margaret Roses” were included in the Princess’s funeral wreath.
The Dutch royal family has also inspired unique varieties of flowers. The orange “Princess Irene” tulip, is named for Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands’ sister, Irene. The Princess was born on the eve of the Second World War and her parents Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard named her for the Greek word for peace in the hope that hostilities would be averted. Princess Juliana and her daughters spent the wartime years in Ottawa as guests of the Canadian government. To thank Canadians for their involvement in the liberation of the Netherlands and for hosting the Dutch royal family, Princess Juliana sent thousands of tulip bulbs to Ottawa including the newly created Princess Irene tulips. The name celebrated both the Dutch princess who spent her early childhood in Canada and the peace that followed the Second World War.
The orchids in Singapore Botanical Gardens named for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Diana, Princess of Wales are part of a long tradition of royal names for new varieties of flowers or, in the case of the King Edward Potato, vegetables. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, royal weddings, coronations, tours and homecomings have been commemorated through the naming of new plants. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge continued this custom on their Diamond Jubilee tour of Singapore.