What’s in a name?

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011

Names are a big thing in horticulture. You have botanical or common names for plants, names for different tools (don’t get me started on the difference between secateurs and pruners!) and names for techniques (spliced side-veneer graft, anyone?).

We also like to name our gardens – in various ways. Thinking about famous gardens, we can see a range of reasons behind the names. Many simply relate to the garden’s location (think Versailles, Kew, etc). Others are a bit more interesting…

  • The Eden Project – How pretentious can you be?! Or so you think until you visit the magical amalgamation of horticultural, architectural and ecological wonders…then you do start to see their point! Another Garden of Eden exists in Calcutta, India, but I shan’t cast churlish aspersions on their choice of name as I haven’t had the opportunity to see them for myself.
  • The Chelsea Physic Garden – Named for the medicinal uses of plants which it was set up to explore (by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London in 1673), but when young I misread the name and expected that you’ll walk in there to find a séance in action or someone who will guess your favourite colour for you!
  • The Wave Garden – A garden which is truly named for its form. Paths, plants, sculptures and rails all flow through this snaking garden on a hillside overlooking San Francisco Bay in California.
  • The Lost Gardens of Heligan – It does seem a little unfair to continue to call those wonderful gardens ‘lost’, when they have been renovated so well. Perhaps ‘The Found Gardens of Heligan’ would be more apt?
  • Lion Grove Garden – The idea of being stalked by lions while innocently enjoying a garden stroll is an exhilarating one, to say the least. But the alternative name for this garden – Stone Lion Grove – should allay most fears. In fact the lions in this Chinese garden are all carved from waterside rocks and have been residents of the garden since its creation in the 1300s.
  • Foggy Bottom – Part of the Bressingham Gardens in Norfolk, UK, the family nickname for this dell garden has stuck and become its ‘formal’, albeit cheeky, name!

On a domestic scale, few of us are lucky enough to have gardens of a size which justify their own name. But we often name our houses and some of these seem to be chosen to tease us about the gardening delights they contain. I used to live near a ‘Dingley Dell’, whose garden was walled with a small arched gateway leading to it. I never visited it, but developed a wonderful mental image of twisting paths, fern strewn dark corners and greens of every shade.

More common are tree-related names, I’m sure you’ll know a couple of these: Yew Cottage, The Hollies, Treetops, The Firs, and so on. I have yet to come across a flat with greenery draped over the balcony which has been aptly called ‘Babylon’ but I’m sure (or, at least, I hope) there is one out there!

This leads me to wonder whether these highfalutin names are really appropriate for the average gardener? Maybe we should be a little more realistic in our choices, so we don’t set visitors’ expectations too high? What about ‘Dunweedin’, ‘The Brambles’ or ‘Rampant’?

As for our house’s name? It’s ‘Redgate’. And we don’t even have a red gate! We inherited the name with the house and think it’s named after a local farm. As with boats, we feel it might spell bad luck to change the name, and ‘Eden’ would definitely be far too pretentious for our little plot!