Amateur’s Guide to Plant Nomenclature
published in the Weeder's Digest)
Long before I ever met
her, gardening has been a passion for my wife. I'm not
sure if it’s her English ancestry or a result of some
early childhood event, but Audrey just can't seem to get
enough time in the garden. While her life as an
apartment dweller did put some natural limits on what
she could and couldn't grow, even still, the oxygen
level in her apartment was always higher than the air
outside, even with the windows open!
With the purchase of
our farm however, all bets were off. From the moment she
first stepped foot on it, Audrey began to draw her
plans. Slowly but surely, she has managed to turn this
old plain tenant farm into a botanical wonderland, full
of plants and flowers of every shape, size, color, and
purpose . . . the names of which, in spite of Herculean
half-hearted efforts, still elude me.
At first, Audrey tried
to teach me the proper Latin names for her 52,000
varieties of plants. But my inability to comprehend her
thoroughly lucent dissertation of the basic structure of
plant categorization, namely: Kingdoms, Divisions,
Classes, Orders, Families, Genus, Species, Subspecies,
etc., etc., left me so frustrated that I found myself
yearning for a bottle of gin and two hours alone in her
garden with a weed whacker.
Unwilling to admit to
my own ineptitude, I began to sneak into the garden and
study the nameplates under each of the plants. At first,
all went well. Every chance I got, I would strut around
like a peacock spouting off my new found knowledge.
Occasionally a visitor would try to probe below my
impressively shallow level of knowledge, but drawing
upon my nuclear power background, I would quickly fall
back on the old trick of ‘If you can’t dazzle with
brilliance, baffle with techno babble . . .’
" . . and this is
another subspecies of Lemon Verbena . . . "
"Um . . . it looks
like a mum to me . . ."
"To the uneducated
eye it appears to be a mum, but in reality, it a member
of a genetically manipulated class of the Verbena
subspecies that was formally part of a small
cross-dressing Varity of Lemon Verbena. I picked it up
in San Francisco."
"Hum . . . are you
sure its not a mum?"
don’t live with a Certified Master Gardener
Extraordinaire and not pick up a few things.
Interestingly enough, this Verbena subspecies is an
common additive to good gin. Speaking of gin, care for
Aware that my charade
was beginning to wear thin, I set my sites on doubling
my knowledge base. Unfortunately, by the time I got
around to picking a second plant to memorize, Audrey had
absconded with the nametags, forcing me to create my own
naming convention, which over the years, I've had ample
time to hone and refine.
According to my theory,
all plants are divided into two main groups, Pull’um
Annums, and Keep’ums. I tend to prefer the Keep’ums
myself, for once they’re in the ground, they tend to
stay there. No matter how pretty they are in the spring
and summer, plants of the Pull’um Annum
grouping tend to get ripped out and thrown into the
compost bin every year, and plants of this grouping
always entail copious amounts of cash out lay in the
spring to replace.
While plants in the Pull’um
Annum category are always in that category, the same
unfortunately cannot be said for plants in the Keep’um
category. While Audrey swears that it’s one of the
finer points of Master Gardening, just what causes a
plant to change sides still eludes me. Every year, at
least one plant that has been a staple in the garden for
years is suddenly and inexplicably torn out by its
screaming roots, only to be replaced by an identical
sibling, the difference of which only genic mapping
All Pull’um Annum
plants destined for the compost heap, are further
categorized as Cloggers or non-Cloggers. Cloggers
are usually long slimy plants that instantly clog
under-powered chipper-shredders when inserted, thereby
requiring frequently shutdowns and clean outs. Non-Cloggers
on the other hand are a fantasy made up by wives to keep
their husbands at their mulcher duty stations.
Plants are next
categorized as Subterranean and Freez’ums .
Subterranean plants are plants considered too
weenie to survive our winters. Electric Company’s are
big fans of Subterranean plants, especially when
they are stored in basements filled with hundreds of
grow lights. By the time Audrey is finished, the
basement looks like a tropical jungle, and the electric
meter is spinning faster then a ‘45 at a sock hop.
analysis, and countless gin and tonics, I’ve come to
the conclusion that the size of the Subterranean
plants is inversely proportional to the weather and the
number of plants left to be carried down into the
basement. I can usually count on Audrey performing a
triage type categorization around 10:00 P.M. on the
night of first frost of the year. Which for some reason,
also is always a night before a important presentation,
which of course, I’ve managed to procrastinate in
preparing until 9:55 P.M.
While the Subterranean
plants are nothing but work for Audrey, they are a
source of nonstop amusement for me. Cut off from the
natural cycles of the sun, they are held hostage to the
latest science fiction movie I’ve watched. One day
they may be on Vulcan time, where day turns to night in
a blink of an eye, and the basement reminds one of a
70's style disco. Another time one might find them on
Mercury time, where days last forever. Throw in the
occasional power outages, where the basement looks like
the dark side of the moon, and by spring, most of the
plants aren't sure whether they should be blooming or
dying, which come to think of it, might account for why
such a considerable percentage of them soon end up
becoming members of the Pull’um Annum grouping.
category in our garden is the grouping of plants into That`s
a Plant and That’s a Weed. Plants in That’s
a Plant category invariable include those that I've
pulled out while putting in some non-supervised weeding
time. That`s a Plant almost always include ones
Audrey has been waiting all summer to see what they
Plants in the That’s
a Weed category usually are those plants I've
thoughtfully stopped by the side of the road and picked,
in response to criticism that I never bring her flowers,
and often go by such names as Goldenrod or Poison Ivy.
Another major grouping
in the garden is the Eat’um, Non-Eat’um,
and the occasional, lets try it but have the number
for poison control handy. At first, the split of
this group was along traditional vegetable/herb and
non-vegetable lines. But slowly flowers of one sort or
another began to show up in salads, then in pasta
dishes. By the time they made it into cookies and jams,
teas and herbal remedies were not far behind.
Almost any new plant in
the garden it seems is a candidate for the Eat’um
category. All they have to do is pass the dog test,
which is: will the dogs eat it? Given that dogs spend
their day devouring horse manure, this might seem like a
rather low threshold to pass, but having been around
horses for 25 years, and not exactly being known for
washing my hands before every meal, it's a threshold my
taste buds can relate to.
Which strangely as it
might seem, leads me to the last major grouping of
plants in the garden, which is by far the most relevant
to me and most of my friends: the Bacchus and Useless
groupings. Bacchus plants are those plants that
when mixed with fermented sugars, enhance one's
appreciation of the garden and just about everything
else in the world. Strawberries are the most popular
example of a Bacchus plant in Audrey’s Garden,
followed by the ever-present Corona bush. Useless
plants as far as I’m concerned are anything that
can’t ad value to a bottle of Spirits, and thus should
be banned from a garden.
With winter just around
the corner, Audrey is busy putting her gardens to bed.
When completed, like all good gardeners, she’ll spend
the winter planning how to outdo this year’s
extraordinary display of colors, smells, and tastes. I
of course will be beginning my ritual lobbying for more
Strawberry Daiquiri plants . .
other Humor stories by Michael Hillman
other stories by Michael Hillman