Originally published August 16, 2009

I like knowing plant names, both the Latin and the colloquial. The common names are more intriguing than the botanical, usually. I prefer honeysuckle to Lonicera, bee balm to Monarda, morning glory to Ipomoea.

How could you not like a plant called toadflax? True, Linaria is inoffensive-sounding, but it doesn’t make me smile.  And Joe-Pye Weed must have an interesting story behind it, while Eupatorium just sounds like someplace you go to burp. Pardon me, I had too much beer. Now I must away to the Eupatorium to belch.

joe-pye weed

There may be some plants with better sounding Latin names than common ones, but none come immediately to mind. I still like knowing them though.

lavender cotton

A few plants sound good in both languages. Santolina, for instance, sounds like the name of a sun-soaked Greek island. It’s commonly known as lavender cotton though it’s neither lavender nor cotton. Somehow the name just fits.


Or how about Artemisia, aka wormwood? Why is a sun-loving plant named after the moon goddess? Wormwood was used to rid the garden and the stomach of worms . . . and along the line became a metaphor for bitterness (from its taste) and a flavoring for absinthe, la fée verte, beloved by debauchers everywhere for its reputed hallucinogenic properties, now debunked. Where’s the fun in that? (The debunking, not the debauchery.)


From etymology to botany: My prevailing attitude toward actual plants is tough love . . . I mean, I do love them. I have great enthusiasm for them. I’m just capricious about their care.  Those planted in pots get watered sporadically, and fertilized when I think about it,  which is almost never. Those newly bedded in the actual ground get coddled for a few weeks, but after that, they pretty much have to survive with whatever they get from the drip system. Oh, I’m picky about the type of soil they’re planted in and what kind of fertilizer I use, and everything’s 100% organic, so I feel I’m giving them a good start. The rest is up to them. Mostly I buy drought-tolerant plants so my policy of benign neglect generally works fine.


Occasionally though, there’s some luscious tender thing that I must have, like million bells (Callibrachoa), also known as callies, another sweet name. They look like tiny petunias spilling bodaciously out of their pots, and come in a gazillion colors. Though not plagued by nasty budworms like petunias, in our climate they do rather like water and a bit of shade. I’m addicted to these little things, so every spring I buy, plant, water, forget to water, then start over.

our first tomatoes since forever ago

But! With the veggies in our first edible garden in 12 years I have been assiduously attentive. I’ve derived such pleasure from finding the first beans and squashies hiding behind giant leaves, watching the tomatoes begin to redden (or yellow), and anticipating how many fruits the tomatillo is going to produce. Based on the number of blossoms and husks, hundreds. And today, joy! The peppers which started out so promisingly in May and then dropped all their buds in a June heat wave are once again blossoming. I thought they were a lost cause but babied them anyway, so now I’ll have bells and serranos as my reward.


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