[Ads-l] Gardening joke linked to E. Roosevelt: good in a bed but better up against a wall

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 28 08:14:05 UTC 2014

Laurence Horn wrote:
> Within the last week, I came across two famous sayings of
> Eleanor Roosevelt that she never said:
. . . skip . . .
> "I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered
> until I read the description in the catalogue: 'no good in a
> bed, but fine up against a wall'."

I performed a preliminary search on this now widespread
misattribution. Here are some matches in Google Books for the joke
that has been implausibly reassigned to Eleanor Roosevelt. The
intriguing citation in 2001 listed immediately below mentioned another
joke pre-1613. This joke was a partial match.

Year: 2001 (Reprint of 1994 edition)
Book title: A dictionary of sexual language and imagery in
Shakespearean and Stuart literature
Author: Gordon Williams
Publisher: London; Atlantic Highlands, N.J. : Athlone Press
(Google Books preview; pub date confusing)

[Begin extracted text]
This is varied by Overbury, 'Newes from the verie Countrie' (pre-1613;
176): 'women are not so tender fruit, but that they doe as well, and
beare as well upon beds, as plashed against walls'. The essential joke
survives in the lady's objection to being called a rambling rose: fine
against a wall, but no good in a bed.
[End extract]

There was a very long temporal gap to the next citation below in 1992.
Perhaps a list member can help to fill the gap.

The name of the rose varied. "Jean Marsh" was used in 1992. "Lady
Hillingdon" was given in the 1995 and 1997 citations. Interestingly,
Lady Hillingdon is the same name used as an attribution for some of
the archetypal "lie back and think of England" quotations. In 2001 a
"rambling rose" was named.

Year: 1992
Periodical: TV Guide
Volume: 40
Quote Page: 2
(Google Books snippet view; probe with 1992 shows volume does contain
issues dated 1992; data may be inaccurate; must verify on

[Begin extracted text]
...looked up the official description, it said, 'Jean Marsh: pale
peach, not very good in beds; better up against a wall.' I want to
tell you that's not true. I'm very good in beds as well."
[End extract]

Year: 1995
Book title: Garden Artistry: Secrets of Planting and Designing a Small Garden
Publisher: Macmillan USA
Photographs by: Helen Dillon
Quote Page: 130
(Google Books snippet; data may be wrong; Worldcat agrees with 1995.
Probe for 1995 shows a snippet indicating copyright 1995)

[Begin extracted text]
You may know the celebrated remark about the rose 'Lady Hillingdon' -
"She's no good in bed but great against a wall" - made on account of
her reputation for being tender.
[End extract]

Year: 1997
Book title: Cuttings from My Garden Notebooks
Author: Graham Stuart Thomas
Quote Page: 196
(Google Books snippet; data may be wrong; Probe shows "Copyright 1997
Sagapress, Inc." WorldCat lists another edition in 1996)

[Begin extracted text]
That uniquely apricot-tinted yellow rose 'Lady Hillingdon', with its
contrasting dark coppery foliage, enchanted me; it was the climbing
form. "She is no good in a bed," said Lady Moore; "best against a
[End extract]

A review of a book titled "Good In A Bed: Garden Writings" in 2001
indicated that the title was a reference to the joke.

Periodical: Country Life
Volume: 195
Article: Social Climbers and Sensual Slugs
  (Book review of "Good In A Bed: Garden Writings" by Ursula Buchan),
Quote Page: 208
Publisher location: London
(Google Books snippet; data may be wrong; Probe shows calendar items in 2001)

[Begin extracted text]
THIS book, a selection of articles from a gardening column written for
The Spectator from 1984 to the present, takes its title from an old
nurseryman's joke about Rosa Lady Hillingdon, which is described in a
catalogue as 'good in a bed but better up against a wall'.
[End extract]


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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