The Orange in England


Europe and a Limited Selection in the ‘Old Days’

Historians and Botanists provide information that not many edible plants originated in Europe. The importation of plants for cultivation slowly progressed during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. During this period of the Middle Ages, the domestic economy of Europe, or simply everyday life, provided a limited variety of fruits to consume. Only the mild climate of the Mediterranean would allow production of fruits in general and citrus specifically. The lemon reached Spain and Sicily during this period while under Arab rule, but the orange did not appear until much later and did not reach any “sizable importance” until the 15th century or so. 1


Fit for a king! (or a monarch)

Due to the inclement weather of the British Isles, oranges have never, or never will be a crop of commercial value in England. But the tree, the fruit, and the blossoms have been symbolic in English history, especially the history of the royalty. In the year 1399, at the coronation feast of Henry the Fourth of England, mention was made of the “Pomedorreing” or golden apple. But this fruit described in the feast was not actually apples- a fruit that had been available in Europe much earlier than citrus. In this case, the term for the fruit was believed to stand for oranges -only a celebration of this magnitude would be worthy of such a novelty as oranges so far north of the Mediterranean. 2


Cultivating the Impossible

But where there is will, there is a way. Some of the leading patrons of gardening in England, George Carew, (1555 – 1629), known as Sir or The Lord Carew between 1586 and 1626 and William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520 – 1598) the chief advisor and Lord Treasurer of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign, are both credited with bringing citrus to England to grow. A citrus farmer of today might describe this as a test of how not to let citrus trees freeze. Regardless, importing citrus into the hostile climate was certainly not a task for the weak of heart or mind! In her book, A History of the Gardening in England.1896, the Honorable Alicia Amherst cites the writings of the time:


...“the orange tree hath abiden with some extraordinary looking [after it] and tending of it, when as neither of the other would by any means be preserved any long time… They [the orange trees] must be kept in great square boxes, and lift there to and fro by iron hooks in the sides…to place them in an house or close gallery in for the winter time…but no tent or mean provision will preserve them.”


‘Conserving’ the Orange

The conservatory originated in the 16th century in Europe as a room to protect the new sub-tropical varieties of plants that had been arriving. England was subjected to very harsh winters with few plants able to tolerate the conditions. To grow the citrus trees, the earliest of these shelters were large rooms with big windows and a stove or open fire to warm the area enough to keep the trees alive. These were the precursors to the more elaborate conservatories with glass walls and ceilings. These structures were typically attached to a house on only one side and were the precursor to greenhouses and hothouses used for cultivation today. The name orangerie was used for the buildings specifically designed to ‘winterize’ the citrus trees. The Orangerie became a fashionable addition to wealthy residences from the 17th to the 19th centuries for not only the fruit trees they protected but for the unique architectural structures that were designed. 2


Searching for the Truth –

Queen Victoria and the Orange Blossom

On February 10, 1840, Queen Victoria was married to Prince Albert. At that time, as with any wedding in the modern era of the Royal Family of England, a great deal of pageantry, spectacle, anticipation and reports (and maybe some rumors) abound. In fact, a persistent rumor about Queen Victoria’s wedding and her flowers, one which has carried into this century, has now been proven incorrect by E. Charles Nelson of “The Garden History Society” of England. Mr. Nelson cleverly extracted the Court Circulars, printed by The Times, which verify the use of flowers by royal brides, including Queen Victoria herself, her daughters and her daughters-in-law-elect.


Rumor Has it

To begin, the misconception has existed since the 1840 wedding that Queen Victoria carried a bouquet containing myrtle (Myrtus communis). From that myrtle ‘sprang’ a bush and from that bush and its descendants myrtle sprigs have been taken ever since for the wedding bouquets carried by both royal brides and commoners.

mouse over pictures for captions – click for expanded view

The Truth Revealed

As extracted from The Times in regards to the floral adornments of the royal wedding:



      Her Majesty's costume: For the gratification of our fair readers we may state that Her Majesty's dress will be of rich white satin, trimmed with orange flower-blossoms. Head-dress - A wreath of orange flower blossoms, and over this a beautiful veil of Honiton lace.

      Her Majesty wore no diamonds on her head, nothing but a simple wreath of orange blossom.

(11 February 1840, p. 4)


In the ‘language of flowers’, whose discussion and meaning gained popularity as gardening became a fashionable pastime in Europe during the 18th century, orange blossoms stood for chastity and purity.


It is no wonder the orange blossom became the favorite flower for Victorian weddings: In 1839 Prince Albert gave his future bride a brooch (he had designed himself) in the form of a sprig of orange with flowers. The leaves and stems were of gold and the two flower buds and the two flowers of white enamel-all details of the brooch were botanically correct. 3


Queen Victoria and Prince Albert worked in closest harmony until his death in 1861. Queen Victoria continued as the longest reigning monarch in British history until her death in 1901. The orange blossom was used many times in the marriages of their nine children. The orange blossom could certainly be considered symbolic of their love and symbolic of the Victorian era.


1 1965. Cambridge Economic History of Europe, Vol 4, Pg. 633

2 1896. A History of Gardening in England. Amherst, The Hon. Alicia.

3 2009. Garden History, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp 231-236.

Queen Victoria, 1847

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