Posted in Country House, History, Horticultural History

Myrtle – By Royal Command

Terrace at Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

‘Her lovely lace veil worn off the face, was arranged flat on her hair, and held in place by a narrow chaplet of myrtle leaves and a white rose at each side.  The bridesmaids wore no veils, and their wreaths of myrtle leaves were bound low on the brow, and held in over the ears with roses and white heather.’

Description that appeared in The Lady magazine, Thursday 26th April 1923, of the wedding of The Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to The Duke of York

Last year, I watched the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a huge outdoor screen at Osborne House, East Cowes, Isle of Wight.  An enjoyable experience and great atmosphere to boot.  I felt that Osborne House was the perfect backdrop to experience this momentous occasion.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert brought the estate in 1845, with the aim of creating a summer retreat and place to escape from court life in London and Windsor. There is so much to see and do at Osborne but I was particularly curious to locate the famous myrtle bushes in the grounds.  The Duchess of Cambridge’s shield-shaped bouquet contained stems from the myrtle at Osborne together with a sprig from a plant grown from the myrtle used in The Queen’s wedding bouquet of 1947. 

View of lower terrace and The Andromeda Fountain, Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

I was particularly thrilled to track down the exact bush that had offered up its stems for the Duchess of Cambridge’s bouquet.  I knew I had the correct bush because the lovely lady in the tea kiosk opposite informed me, proudly, that she had watched through the window when officials had cut sprigs from it in the previous week.  I purchased my own little piece of history from the gift shop, a cutting from the myrtle bushes at Osborne and this has now been duly planted in the garden.

Myrtle bush that the Duchess of Cambridge's sprigs were cut from at Osborne House.

Myrtle (Myrtus communis) is a small evergreen shrub, producing fragrant white or pink flowers.  It can be planted out-of-doors if you live in a mild climate or if not, then kept in a pot and protected throughout the winter.  It thrives in a warm, sheltered position in full sun, ideally close to a south or west-facing wall.  The soil must be fertile and well-drained.

Upper terrace at Osborne House, showing Clock Tower.

It is a tradition that all royal bridal bouquets contain a sprig of myrtle from the grounds of Osborne.  The myrtle originally found its way to Osborne by way of Prince Albert’s grandmother, the dowager duchess of Saxe Gotha and Attenburg, who gave Queen Victoria a nosegay with myrtle during a visit to Gotha in Germany in 1845.  The myrtle was planted against Osborne’s terrace walls.  When Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married in 1858 she began the tradition by incorporating myrtle into her bouquet.  Princess May of Teck (Queen Mary) wore a diamond diadem adorned with orange blossom, myrtle and white heather when she married Prince George, Duke of York on the 6th July 1893.  Lady Diana Spencer had myrtle from Osborne in her Edwardian-style shower bouquet.

Myrtle has been popular since ancient times.  Medieval brides used to wear a crown of flowers each with a meaning, good luck, long life and to ward off evil spirits.  Aphrodite was often seen pictured wearing a myrtle wreath on her head.  Roman bridegrooms also wore wreaths of myrtle.

In Germany, Myrtle is seen as a symbol of the innocence of the bride. The Language of Flowers for wedding bouquets in the UK is as follows:

  • Myrtle = love, the emblem of marriage;
  • Orange blossom and wheat = fertility;
  • Veronica = fidelity;
  • Heather = good luck;
  • Rosemary = remembrance;
  • Ivy = fidelity, marriage, wedded love, friendship and affection;
  • Lily of the Valley = return of happiness;
  • Sweet William = gallantry;
  • Hyacinth = constancy of love.

For opening times and visitor information on Osborne House, please click here.



Social historian, based in the UK.

2 thoughts on “Myrtle – By Royal Command

    1. Dear Margaret,

      Thank you so much for your comment. Osborne House is such a beautiful heritage treasure. I am so glad that you had a great day-out on Sunday. Did you visit the ice-house? On my last visit, I think I might have seen a ghost in there, very spooky. The grounds are stunning and the new beach attractions are super. Did you see my post ‘Bathing Beauties’ post – some nice pics of the beach at Osborne on there. I am looking forward to re-visiting Osborne. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      Kind regards. Em.


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