I’m good with words but bad with names. I’d need an iPad app to track the number of times I’ve met someone new, only to have my grasp on their handle pried loose by the grip of forgetfulness. I confess to being one of those people who secretly loves events where attendees wear adhesive-backed moniker prompts on their chests. But lately, I have started to surprise myself. For this I have my wife, our garden and Garden Walk Buffalo to thank.
When it comes to nailing the name of every single thing growing in our garden, I may not be a “Jeopardy” champ – but at least I don’t come off like a chump on a stump in our Elmwood Village Eden. (I amazed myself a couple of years ago by telling an inquisitive out-of-town visitor she was looking at a firecracker begonia. Alex would have been so proud!)
Wherefore this mnemonic breakthrough? Some summers ago, my patient and knowledgeable spouse (once described in this very newspaper as “a gifted Buffalo gardener”) started taking me by the hand on what I’ll call flora familiarization tours. Slowly, painfully, ploddingly, she helped me get on a first-name basis with the plethora of plants in our backyard.
But before I get into the whole rose is a rose and violets are blue thing, and in the spirit of full disclosure and marital harmony, let me lay out our division of labor. My wife’s the gardener and I’m the groundskeeper. She does the beauty and I do the brawn (or at least what passes for it). She knows by heart the names and arrival time of every blooming flower in her ken; my main job is to not trample them – getting yelled at has conditioned me to tiptoe through the tulips like a soldier caught in the middle of a minefield.
Let’s just say that the successful completion of my manly duties – repurposing used sporting goods into garden art, mowing and weed-whacking the lawn, obsessively weeding and sweeping the patio, and that high-water mark of the Y-chromosome, wheeling out the garbage tote – have had little call for taxonomy. And thus the opportunity for my garden education, which my Floribunda has gladly undertaken.
And so, I’ve learned that begonias are idiosyncratic, no two alike – some are hairy and some look like escargot. Phlox blooms twice if you cut it back. Dahlias are showy. Persian Shield’s name sounds like its dominant color – purple. Foxglove is an alias for digitalis – our very own cardiac care unit. And then there are the lilies – Oriental, Orientpet, Asiatic, day and calla – as much to be approached for their dense fragrances or intense colors as they are to be avoided for their shirt-staining, rust-colored pollen.
Not that it’s not obvious, but Elephant Ears have a way of flapping in the breeze that suggests a pachyderm swatting away flies. Love Lies Bleeding is supposed to be bad luck for wedding bouquets. And while I’m no expert, I now have a decent batting average when it comes to picking out bluebells, eranthus, daisies, echinacias, hellenium, hibiscus, peonies, geraniums, ornamental and herbal sage, Swiss chard, bacopa, petunias, ligularia, clematis, our many varieties of hosta, and clivia with its bright orange or yellow blossoms.
Now that I know them by name, it’s time to smell the David Austin roses. If you visit us during Garden Walk, please introduce yourself. If I don’t remember your name, blame it on the forget-me-nots.