Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A rose by any other name

I'm sure it's a gardening sin to be attracted to a plant because of its name, rather than by its more horticulturally significant characteristics.  If so, it's a sin I commit frequently, or at least I lust after those plants in my heart even if prudence wins out.  (Or Pruden's Purple.)

We've had a couple of discussions over on Grow It Eat It about tomato varieties that have or haven't coped well with growing conditions this year.  Several people (including me) have done well with Speckled Roman, which is the oval-shaped tomato to the left in the photo.  Isn't it pretty?  (Being attracted to food plants because of their appearance is another failing of mine.)  They show up very well in the garden, are tasty and solid-fleshed, good for slicing and making sauces, and cope reasonably well with dire summers and brown marmorated stink bugs, though I did have some blossom end rot issues with them for a while.

Anyway, the point is that part of the initial attraction for me in Speckled Roman was the name, perhaps in this case not its own name so much as that it's bred from two varieties I've never grown but like the sound of, Banana Legs (which is just pleasantly whimsical and fun) and Antique Roman (which is a quote from Hamlet).  I wonder about people who name plant varieties sometimes, often with admiration and occasionally with horror, and hug to myself the idea that I might someday get to name one myself, except that I'd probably freeze up and not be able to think of anything clever, and end up like children who call pets Blackie or Spot.  (Neither of which would be a good name for a tomato.)  When I was very small I had a goldfish named Silly (I presume due to its highly amusing excretory functions; my mother will correct or confirm) and I don't think I was allowed to name pets for... oh, there were the gerbils.  No one could have named all those gerbils cleverly.

But anyway.  Speckled Roman came out well; less successful was the tulip Surprise, which was of course purchased because of Patrick O'Brian.  I don't have a photo of it handy, and it's not sold anymore, but it was a perfectly handsome orange tulip of the sort that starts red and yellow with stripes that sort of merge into each other as it ages.  Lovely, except that it clashed horribly and surprisingly with my magnolia that is either Anne or Jane and has big purple-pink flowers and blooms at the exact same time behind the orange tulips.  Tulips, we are supposed to inform people, do not perennialize well in this region (except for species types); well, ha.  The secret to getting perennial tulips is to plant ones that clash horribly with something else in your garden.  These lasted a good ten years after being planted in about eight inches of mostly clay; I think they may send up leaves this year but no flowers, and I hope they die and stay dead.  (I've had others last almost as long, actually; the Triumph type is particularly good at hanging on.)

I am also rather prone to flowers named after people I like (or make up *mumbleIrishistroidesGeorge*).  Never been tempted by the roses named after First Ladies; did seriously consider Hosta 'Captain Kirk'.  Because! They got the colors! Almost right.

I'm sure I have more examples of the name fallacy hanging around, but must run...


  1. I've heard of people doing "Shakespeare" gardens, not the traditional type of plants mentioned in Shakespeare's works, but of plants named after characters.

  2. That could be fun. Tomato 'Juliet' and eggplant 'Ophelia' to start.

  3. All my memory tells me is that you named that goldfish "Silly." He did have many adventures, going on trips with us in a plastic bag placed in the goldfish bowl, and secured with a twist-tie. I remember him riding on top of some stuffed animals in the back well of the VW bug at one point. Then came the dreadful day when we decided we couldn't take him on a trip, so he went to stay with the people in the lab where your father worked, and they overfed him and he died!
    I do not want to discuss gerbils. Or African clawed frogs.