A gardening friend once told me that what he loved about gardening (besides playing in the dirt) was that it led you down the roads of history and literature and science. Gardening can lead you anywhere.
One place it can lead is to a modest study of Latin. I was proud that I got through high school without studying Latin, but becoming a gardener made me mourn that lost opportunity. I have been making up for it ever since.
Recently at Garden Rant Allan Armitage posted about the problems with garden centers and nurseries that don’t know their Latin. I myself have had problems finding a particular plant I wanted when I only knew a common name, and when shopping, found out there was more than one plant with that name.
Some Latin terms aren’t hard to understand: fragrantissumus for very fragrant; foetidus for bad smelling; hirsutus for covered with hair; mellifera for honeybearing; and orientalis for from the eastern part of the world. There are many more of these fairly simple Latin words.
Others are not so simple, and this beautiful book, Gardener’s Latin: Discovering the Origins, Lore & Meanings of Botanical Names by Bill Neal with an introduction by Barbara Damrosch will not only educate, it will delight and amuse. “onopordum: literally ‘ass-fart’ refers to the effect Scotch thistle, Onopordum, has on donkeys who consume it.”
The book also includes side bars with plant trivia, once again leading down paths of history and literature. Did you know that Achillea is named for Achilles who made a salve of this plant to heal battlefield wounds?
This book is truly illustris (brilliant) and illecebrosus (alluring and enticing).