Broken-Hearted Gardener, The

DESCRIPTION: "I'm a broken-hearted gardener and don't know what to do, My love she is inconstant and a fickle jade too." The singer calls her his myrtle, geranium, and other flowers. He botanically describes his misery, but rejects suicide because she wants him dead
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1933 (Sam Henry collection)
KEYWORDS: love abandonment flowers suicide
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
SHenry H499, pp. 387-388, "The Broken-Hearted Gardener" (1 text, 1 tune)
Roud #7966
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "The Broken-Hearted Fish Fag"
NOTES: This resembles "The Gardener" (Child #219) in its use of flowers to describe emotions, but doesn't use the same sort of emotional symbolism. To this singer, the girl is the flower; in "The Gardener," the flowers describe their relationship.
The fullest description of flower symbolism I've found is from a piece in Norman Ault, Elizabethan Lyrics From the Original Texts, pp. 69-73, "A Nosegay Always Sweet, for Lovers to Send for Tokens of Loave at New Year's Tide, Or for Fairings," which was printed 1584. It offers this list:
"Lavender is for lovers true....
"Rosemary is for remembrance....
"Sage is for sustenance....
"Fennel is for flatterers....
"Violet is for faithfulness....
"Thyme is to try me [the usual meaning is of course virginity]....
"Roses is to rule me....
"Gillyflowers is for gentleness....
"Carnations is for graciousness....
"Marigolds is for marriage....
"Pennyroyal is to print your love So deep within my heart....
"Cowslips is for counsel...."
It will be noted that many of the broken-hearted gardener's flowers aren't in this list. Our Singer offers wild rose, cabbage (!), myrtle, geranium, sunflower, marjoram, tulip, honeysuckle, violet, hollyhock, dahlia, mignonette, apple, sweet pea, snowdrop, ranunculus, hyacinth, gillyflower, polyanthus, heartsease, pink, water lily, buttercup, daisy, daffodowndilly, cherry, mushroom (!), cucumber (!), dandelion, nettle, beetroot, chickweed, and pumpkin. It seems pretty clear that the author of this song knew of the idea of flower symbolism -- but didn't know the details, or simply made up his own.
Most of these herbs had some sort of traditional use as well as a symbolism; sometimes the two were linked. Sage, for instance, was said to improve the mind; Nicolas Culpeper declared that "Sage is of excellent use to help the memory" (see Ruth Binney, Nature's Way: lore, legend, fact and fiction, David and Charles, 2006, p. 149). William Turner said that lavender was a "comfort to the brain" (Binney, p. 117). Robert Hacket by 1607 declared that rosemary "helpeth the brain, strengtheneth the memory, and is very medicinable for the head" (Binney, p. 86). And so forth.
Not every herb is so closely linked in use and meaning; fennel, for instance, was used as a digestive aid (Binney, p. 131). And thyme, used perhaps in more songs than any plant but the rose, is not mentioned at all in Binney's long list, which includes (I believe) every other plant in Ault's long list except pennyroyal. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.7
File: HHH499

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