Identity Crisis Posted on October 19, 2009

I concur, of course, with those who hold it is dangerous and immoral to muddy the pure waters of taxonomy. To give, for example, an unauthorized name, for whatever reason, to any plant that has a good (or at least a valid) name already. Synonymy, with names that are merely hort adding to the complication of those that are bot, gives the compilers of The Plantfinder half their problems. Ignorance is the only possible plea.

And yet…. Frail gardeners sometimes know only one thing for certain about a plant – who gave it to them. Its genus, probably. Its species, perhaps. Its variety or cultivar name, more foggy. I’ll confess. I grow a hydrangea that I have never matched with an official name. It is a ravishing tender blue pale blue with no electricity in it and fades into shades of lavender and grey and green. I am probably put off the scent by our soil conditions; my interest, frankly, is simply in keeping it as it was when I was given it, by a dear friend and veteran (among many things) gardener, now 90, called Leonard Ratcliff.

Guess what I call it. It’s unauthorized, immoral and the rest, but in this garden Leonard Ratcliff is its name, and who knows it if may be passed on with no more official label.

I have a proposal to make the situation plain. Heaven knows there is enough in the rules already about capital letters and inverted commas. But I add another rule. I am using the > and < symbols before and after it. It is both more than and less than the name I know it by. If I call it Hydrangea >Leonard Ratcliff< that should be reasonably clear.

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