Monday, March 7, 2011

Pass the Bottle! Here Comes a New Name...

Welcome guest blogger Stephanie Cohen. Enjoy her post!

          Once upon a time plants were named for real people. In jolly old England, both first and last names were always used. So we have plants named for some of their illustrious plant hunters, breeders, and designers such as Vinca ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘Dianthus ’C.T. Musgrove’, and Syringa ‘Miss Ellen Willmott’.  Others are named for famous personages as Picea ‘OttoVan Bismarck’ or Paeonia ‘Joseph Rock’.  In recent times Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ was named for Richard Hartlage,  Hosta “Paul’s Glory’ was named for hosta great Paul Aden, and Hemerocallis ‘Stephanie Returns’ named for yours truly. America, being a tad more casual, allowed first names to suffice. Later on, the first name plus an adjective would do the trick as with Dianthus ‘Spotty Dottie’ or Hemerocallis ‘Sassy Shannon’. Other  unique names were for places that the plant could be found as Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’ or Sequoia ‘Filoli’ and ‘Los Altos’. Plant names often help you visualize something tangible about the plant, such as tell you its color as in Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ or Boltonia ‘Pink Beauty’.  Some names like little, dainty, and dwarf reassure us that this is a small plant. And certain perennials are even named for lively dances as ‘Rhumba’ ,‘Samba’, or ‘Bolero’ which means the colors are hot and vibrant.
For a while it seemed we had run out of good new names. “Never!” said the new name gurus. Let’s use food names! It’s no wonder we are gaining weight with perennials such as Hemerocallis ‘Cotton Candy’ and ‘Cream Soufflé,  Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’, ‘Cherries Jubilee’, and ‘Brownies’,  or Pulmonaria  ‘Spilled Milk’ and ‘Raspberry Ice’. Once in a while a food name was used that was actually healthy, such as Hemerocallis ‘Carrots Forever’  This list is as endless as a grocery order for an NFL Team.
Next we started to get very playful as we went from Hosta ‘Great Expectations’ to ‘Hanky Panky’, ‘Striptease’, ‘X-Rated’, ‘Breeders Choice’ and ‘Bridegroom’. Then there’s Actea ‘Black Negligee’.  Not to be outdone, check out Daffodils with  names like ‘Peeping Tom’, ‘Salome’ and ‘Rapture’ . Are the plants having relationships we dare not talk about?  Radio, television, movies, email, blogs, and Facebook have all influenced our sexual behavior and now it is creeping into our plant names.
Last but not least, over 20 years ago we started with Begonias named ‘Gin’, ‘Whiskey’, and ‘Vodka’ . It always made me laugh. Many years later Spring Meadow introduced Weigela ‘Midnight Wine’,  followed by ‘Summer Wine’ and ‘Wine and Roses’. The race was on  to see how many delicious concoctions we could identify. We have Miscanthus ‘Cabaret’ , Lamium maculatum ‘Cosmopolitan’, Heuchera ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, ‘Lime Rickey’, and ‘Southern Comfort’, Coreopsis  ‘Tequila Sunrise’, Hosta  ‘Manhattan’, Gaillardia ‘Burgundy’, and Papaver ‘Champagne Bubbles’ all adding to our increasing list  of drink names. I do think hardy hibiscus wins the prize for names like ‘Bordeaux’, ‘Chablis’, Grenache’ and ‘Cranberry Punch’ as well as the Cordial series. I often think of Luther Burbank thinking about the white snow on his beloved Mount Shasta and naming Leucanthemum ‘Mount Shasta’ for it. I know times are tough, but what is our green industry thinking about as they sit and ponder names as “Mint Julep’ ‘Raspberry Wine’, ‘Partytime’, ‘Vintage Wine’ or ‘Sangria’? Are they discussing their plant qualities or their libation exuberance?
Perhaps they have exhausted this trend. Otherwise, we will be forced to go back to my friends the begonias with ‘BadaBing’ or ‘Bada Boom’ and ask this version of the Sopranos to help us because all that we will have left  after getting rid of sex and drink names is Hosta ‘Praying Hands’ and Resurrection Lilies.

Submitted by Stephanie Cohen
, author of "The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer" (co-authored with Nancy Ondra) and "The Nonstop Garden" (co-authored with Jennifer Benner, a CT resident). These wonderful books are available at Natureworks and at our classes. 
Visit her website:

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