A rose by any other name: Our gardening columnist gets personal.
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Floral gifts have meant a lot to Deborah over the years
I have spoken before about how people often use plants or flowers to mark special occasions. Ever since I was a small child - possibly since birth, but certainly for as long as I can remember - my aunt has bought me a bunch of flowers for my birthday. Once I was old enough to know that it was a tradition, I would always look forward to receiving them - it made me feel very grown up to be getting a bunch of beautiful flowers from a proper florist for my birthday.
Then there were plays, or concerts at school. At the time I wasn’t really aware of the idea that actors or performers would often have flowers thrown at them on opening nights, or for solo performances, but my aunt would come to the stage door afterwards with a small bunch of flowers - I felt very special indeed. On one occasion, I remember her turning up at the house with a plant - at that age (probably about 13) I didn’t know a great deal about plants, but she told me that she’d bought the camellia for me for it’s name – ‘Debbie Claire’ - the same as mine. It’s a beautiful plant, and still thrives in my parent’s garden.
When I moved to university and my halls of residence were just off the famous Penny Lane in Liverpool, a ‘Penny Lane’ rose duly arrived at the house, and was planted to mark the occasion. Again, it grew well in the soil of my childhood home, and occasionally I’ll pick a bloom from it now, but I won’t dig it up to move it, as it’s so well established there and might not travel well.
Sometimes, much like sending flowers, we buy plants to mark sad events. There are far more shrubs and trees in my parents’ garden than I would like there to be, marking the passing of friends, or family members - my mum often refers to ‘Uncle Joe’, the walnut tree that they bought when her uncle died many years ago. She thinks of him when she looks at it, and it’s a lovely way to keep a part of him alive in her garden.
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It seemed totally right to me that I would buy the David Austin rose ‘Agnes’ when my own grandmother died - her name was Rose Agnes… and she loved her garden just as much as I do.
Most recently, when my daughter was born, I wanted to buy something for the garden to celebrate her arrival into the world - there were many roses which had names similar to hers, but nothing quite right - a rose named ‘Grace’ was given to me on my birthday - a few short weeks after she was born - her middle name. It’s stunning, and in full bloom at the moment. I think I have paid it more attention, and watered it more regularly than any plant I have ever owned - I realise it’s because this is the first plant I’d actually be genuinely devastated to lose!
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After much searching, I discovered that a fuschia ‘Sophie Grace’ was available - so promptly ordered one and look forward to the pressure of making sure I remember to water that too!
It’s lovely to be able to buy plants with a name which is meaningful to you, but it must be even more wonderful to be able to actually name a plant. Plantsmen and women have to think of names when they cultivate new varieties, and it must be incredibly difficult, yet exhilarating to be able to choose a name for a plant that you have created.
I guess there must be some amount of checking that goes on to make sure the name is different to existing plants - and of course all plants also have a Latin name. The Latin names that we use for plants can be broken down into two parts - this is thanks to an 18th century naturalist called Carl Linnaeus - the first part of the name is the genus, and the second part is the specific name.
We can generally get clues as to what the plant is with a basic knowledge of Latin (nobody has this anymore right?). My knowledge of Latin is specifically limited to plant names - and once you learn some, you can work out lots of others - for example the Latin word “festuca” means grass - so then any plant names which start “festuca” you know will be a type of grass.
As the years go by, I know that my garden will start to become populated with more and more plants which have meaning attached to them, or which can be linked to a certain place or person that they have been bought to remember. For now - I will keep caring for my lovely rose ‘Grace’ and hope that my beautiful daughter will one day want to know all about the plants that I have bought to mark her arrival!