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Gab of gardeners

Tom Glass
Vail CO, Colorado

Perhaps the only thing that horticultural professions share with the grand professions of medicine and law is a little bit of Latin. It’s not much overlap, but my exposure to this archaic language and the effect it has on people has led me to an insight of, I think, great power and proportion. Here it is: Latin may be the root of all evil in all three occupations.

You may think this a stretch, but this could be big. This could be the key to perfect communication between lawyers and clients and clients’ adversaries. Completely simpatico becomes possible between doctors and patients, and even insurance companies and their lawyers, and so on and so on, ad infinitum.

It will probably require a meeting or two between governing bodies, but what say we drop the Latin? I’ve observed that gardeners hate to even attempt the pronunciation of a word in Latin. If they pronounce it wrong, it makes them feel, well ” English fails me here ” stupid. If my pronunciation of a plant name is correct, well, then I’m a smarty pants covered in schmutz.



Make no mistake, doctors and lawyers are presented with some of the grandest problems in society, but I’m thinking a little plain-spoken chat might go a long way toward sorting the wheat from the chaff in this world. As for horticulture, I’m certain the Latin thing is where things begin to fall off the vine a bit before harvest for the average gardener. So, for all you doctors and lawyers out there, I’m just going to forge ahead here and solve the gardening end of the problem. Maybe it will help solve this linguistic mess we’ve all gotten ourselves into. No need to thank me. OK, maybe you can buy me a soda sometime.

You wouldn’t know it by sizing me up, but I’m a Latin lover. (I couldn’t pass up the once-in-a-lifetime chance to put that in print.) Believe it or not, the botanical naming of plants using Latin and its conventions clarifies things. It works. The people who supply plants and I recognize an osteospermum as an osteospermum, an argyranthemum as an argyranthemum, a leucanthemum as a leucanthemum, and to the average Joe or Joan, they all look like daisies. You want black-eyed Susies? I can sell you four easily, but we’ll have to come to an agreement as to which one is the Susie you know.



I swear to all that is good, this is not jabberwocky. I don’t know who came up with all this stuff. This was not planned by plant breeders to drive customers back into their cars empty-handed. It’s simply a small measure of the diversity in the plant kingdom and what garden centers have available to offer to you today. It is also a measure of the colloquial pet names given to plants throughout the world as well. Kind of cool, huh? I like it, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that there are people in this industry, along with black-belt masters of gardening, who wield a mean Latin tongue like a switchblade. One swipe, and there go the tendons that held your head high alongside your fellow man.

When you think about it, if your day involved digging holes only to fill them back in, you too might discover yourself leafing through seed catalogs for inspiration at night and muttering Latin under your breath the following day. Even the people who cataloged these plants for the first time often stuck an “i” or two at the end of their own names and named the plants after themselves. No ego in that. It’s sort of like a kid spitting on the better part of a found chocolate in order to keep it for himself.



Gardeners of America, don’t let this stuff bumfuzzle you. They’re just names. Maybe this will help those of you who must get it right. If you see an “i” or two at the end of a plant name, don’t end the conversation with an “ai yai yai.” Use phonetics to pronounce the name and then end it with “eye,” or “I” or “aye,” and there’s a 65 percent chance you pronounced it correctly. If you see an “a” ending the name, finish the word with an “ahh” or an “uhh,” depending upon how you were raised. See, botanical names using Latin are simple. We all should be doctors or lawyers and such.


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