Flavian - Flavus - What's In A Name?Wednesday, May 28, 2014
|Geranium maculatum 'Beth Chatto' & fern Adiantum pedatum, Fuiji Instant Print|
In a parallel history in a parallel world to ours, Roman emperor Flavius Circinalis pushed the Roman Empire beyond the borders of emperor Trajan and went as far as the banks of China at what is now the Sea of Japan. He and his army built galleys and crossed the waters to Japan. There Flavius Circinalis defeated the army of Tokudama but had to eventually withdraw, as Alexander did, when he found himself much too far from his supply bases.
This train of thought comes to mind every time I look upon a beautiful hosta called Hosta tokudama ‘Flavo Circinalis’. If you have studied Latin in your past (and for this to be a fact you must be at least 70) you would know that flavus means yellow but that there were in fact Flavian emperors with yellow not being the connection. Hosta tokudama 'Flavo Circinalis' is variegated with lots of yellow.
|Geranium maculatum 'Beth Chatto' May 28, 2014|
One of the pleasures of gardening and walking in one’s garden is to reminisce on the names of plants. In some cases the plants will have names associated with people I have met and been friends with. My Hosta ‘Sea Dream’ has the face (in my imagination) of Mildred Seaver from Needham Heights, Massachusets. She befriended my Rebecca many years ago when we traveled to Washington, D.C. for a convention of the American Hosta Society.
My North Van friend Allen Cooke’s Rhododendron augustinii ‘Marion McDonnell’ purple blue in early spring in my garden reminds me of Marion McDonnell who used to be called the Blue Poppy Lady. I often visited her in her Shaughnessy garden for coffee, cookies and a chat. Most of our city’s Meconopsis betonicifolia came from her garden.
Rosa complicata sometimes listed as a Gallica rose was originally brought to me in a little pot by Cooke who said to me, “If you are going to have one rose in your garden is has to be this one.” Complicata was indeed one of my first roses. Now I have around 85.
Ferns are beautiful beasts and their names reflect that. The ostrich fern (whence fiddle heads come from) has the unromantic name Matteuccia struthiopteris. You have to ignore that name (in fact most easily forgotten) to love this plant of which I have many in my garden from the one original plant sold to me by Nan Fairchild Sherlock, aka “The Fern Lady”. I asked her at a VanDusen plant sale if I should buy another. She smiled and gently nodded a negative.
And so I tend to gravitate to not only the plants named for my friends such as Hosta ‘Alex Summers’ but to people I do not know but I am still fascinated by.
Consider Geranium maculatum ‘Beth Chatto’. Chatto is an English plantswoman (only the English could invent such a word!) born in 1923 and must still be alive as I have not been able to locate an obituary. Her name is not in the least romantic sounding. Consider Artemisia ludoviciana 'Valerie Finnis'. Finnis, another English plantswoman who died at age 81 in 2006 has a much nicer sounding name. And this particular artemesia is one of my Rosemary’s favourites. It is interesting that one of the Artemisias in ancient history was a female naval commander under the Persian Xerxes.
Going back to that Geranium maculatum ‘Beth Chatto’ which I purchased in 1990, Rosemary says that unlike many other geraniums this one has feminine foliage and habits (it does not intrude and stays where it is put). But Chatto? For anybody reading this a geranium is not your ordinary potted geranium, particularly those red ones. Those (and my Rosemary would lift her nose a tad up into the air) are called pelargoniums which indeed are part of the geranium genus but are not hardy as they originally came from South Africa. The Portuguese explorers who round South Africa brought back these pelargoniums and from Portugal they were taken to Spain and the Spaniards took them to the New World. The pelargonium is ubiquitous in Lima where they tolerate poor soil, high heat and drought.
The geraniums, Rosemary’s geraniums are extremely hardy and a few have flowers that are startlingly blue. Blue is one of Rosemary’s favourite garden colours because it is rare.
Of all the plants in my garden the ones that evoke more daydreaming and curiousity are my roses. I have written before that my favourite scent is that of the Magnolia grandiflora (the Southern Magnolia). There are splendid paintings of the huge white flower at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. But there is no romatic English plantswoman or French queen associated with this magnolia. You can imagine a huge herbivore dinosaur being attracted to the scent and then munching on the very large and thick leaves. But that’s it. There is no romance.
But Valerie Finnis! Or Rosa ‘Mme Pierre Oger’ hybridized by Verdier in France in 1878! This latter Bourbon Rose a sport (a mutation of Rosa ‘Reine Victoria’) makes me wonder who Monsieur Pierre Oger was. Could he have been a friend of Louis-Eugène-Jules Verdier?. Or could he have been his brother-in-law. One of the loveliest dark red roses in my garden is English Rose Rosa ‘L.D. Braithwaite’ named after David Austin’s (the hybridizer) brother-in-law.
Now here is the description of Rosa ‘Mme. Pierre Oger’ as in my rose bible, Peter Beales – Classic Roses
Very pale silvery-pink, translucent, cupped flowers with the form of small water lilies, sweetly scented.
To me Mme. Pierre Oger would have been a Grace Kelly look-alike, dainty, feminine, high strung and beautiful.
I am not sure if I am doing a good job of explaining my intention. A plant that may be millions of years old without change (the magnolias) have less of a visceral feeling in my heart than a rose, hybridized or found as a sport in some garden in France in the 19th century. Millions of years is much too old for comfort. A rose that could have been admired by Queen Victoria has more history and more connection for me.
Hosta ‘Alex Summers’ brings to mind the low voiced stutter of my friend Alex Summers who once told me:
A garden must have sun, shade and water. Of the latter you must make sure you can hear it. It takes 7 years to have a garden. The first year you plan it. The next two years you plant it. The next two years it matures. On the seventh year you enjoy it. It then declines and you start all over again.