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Heirloom Carrots

What’s in a Name

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There's more to plant names than you think. Some bear wonderful names that contribute a sense of poetry to the garden, while other are just plain silly. JUSTIN RUSSELL asks the question, "what's in a name?".

Is it wrong to grow some plants simply because of their names? Some people would call me flippant, I suppose, but I can’t deny that I’ve chosen more than a few plants based not on their favourable characteristics, but solely on their colourful nomenclature.

The heritage lettuce ‘Drunken Woman’ immediately springs to mind. The ‘Lazy Housewife’ climbing bean. The tomato with a name that seems unpronounceable but is actually quite rhythmical – ‘Wapsipinicon Peach’.

Apple trees have some of the most wonderfully rustic names of all. ‘Peasgood’s Nonsuch’ is a good one. ‘Stayman’s Winesap’ isn’t bad either. ‘Catshead’, ‘Improved Foxwhelp’, ‘Jolly Beggar’ and ‘Blue Pearmain’ are all interesting names. None, however, quite match the cheeky brilliance of ‘Slack Ma Girdle’, a cider apple that isn’t available in Australia but would find an immediate spot in my garden if it was.

By comparison, new plant releases tend to get slapped with some of the most pathetically contrived names you can imagine. You know the one’s I mean, don’t you? Many are aspirational, as if gardening belongs at a motivational conference, others are plain silly. The worst are the weird mashups and deliberate mis-spellings, similar to the kind of names you see on washing powder boxes and gangsta rap albums.

Sorry if I sound like a grump. I don’t envy those plant breeders who have to invent an enticing new moniker every other week, and I have no doubt that some badly named plants are really gardenworthy. But I’m after something more in my garden than fancy new plants with shiny happy names. To me, the most soulful, life affirming gardens are those that have a sense of poetry about them, and in that regard, colourfully named plants will always come up trumps. I don’t know about you, but I find something irresistible about plants with wonderful names. You’ll forgive me then, if I head outside to sow some Amish Deer Tongue lettuces, near some Purple Dragon carrots.