When we visited an open garden not long ago, Attila informed some fellow seekers after truth that I knew the name of nearly every plant on the planet. Having set me up for a fall, I was required to identify a column of pretty dusky leaves without a flower to help me, in front of a group of breathless spectators hanging upon my every word. The common and scientific titles left my head instantly, with an audible whooshing sound. The more I dredged my memory, the further the information escaped me. I imagined that I was pestering a librarian; if I importuned her too vigorously, she threatened to pack up her sandwiches and flask of tea in a huff and secrete herself in a back room, with a sturdy lock on the door. I could almost see the look of irritation on her face. It took me a fortnight to remember Atriplex hortensis (purple orach) and by then, my audience had drifted away.
Acer aconitifolium (Japanese maple) autumn foliage
I’ve taken to employing mnemonics but given the length and breadth of possible targets, these are getting increasingly contrived. Where is the name? Nowhere. Nowhere backwards is erewhon, that leads to Eremurus (foxtail lily). Unfortunately, I’ve started forgetting a phrase that was supposed to jog my recollection. Recently, a friend asked me to identify an Amaryllis from a picture. I’ve grown dozens of the things in my time but I’m prepared to swear that I had never seen anything like it, until Google gave me a clue. The image search is a good and patient ally, putting up with some incredibly airy fairy descriptions and usually producing something helpful. One day, when the weeds are all gone, I will photograph every specimen in the garden and put it in a folder with an accurate tag. So, nothing to worry about anytime soon.
Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag iris) seed pods
I make a point of using Latin in this blog, since readers in Latvia may not recognise colloquial nicknames. There are some fifty labels for Viola tricolor, including wild pansy, heartsease, tickle-my-fancy and Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me. Shakespeare used love-in-idleness, for Puck to befuddle poor Titania into thinking that donkey headed Bottom was beautiful. Pansy comes from the French pensée, a thought. The plant has long been used by herbalists as an expectorant for asthma and bronchitis. It has also been employed as a diuretic to treat cystitis. Since the folk remedies call on it to control stuff leaving a human body, I can’t see the reason for the more sexy country monikers. Johnny-jump-up implies something going in, rather than coming out, in my opinion.
Malus sylvestris, Rosa & Macleaya (crab apple, rose & plume poppies)
Since last week’s essay on the paving, my cats have given the fresh soil their prolonged and special attention. They have sprinkled the earth in comet tails across the courtyard and worked hard at upending many of the new ferns, leaving them to wave their roots in the air in a most forlorn manner. The little hairy bastards sit by their spoil heaps with a smirk, as if I should applaud their efforts at horticulture. Common names for the species include moggy, pussy or kitty; I can think of many other vulgar things to call them.