“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Juliet, in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Act II Scene ii
I’ve been pondering plant names recently. I love The Bard, but in this case, at least in gardening, I have to disagree. Yes, rename your favourite rose “thugwum” and it would indeed still smell as sweet, would be exactly the same plant, but there can be such a rich romance to plant names, and for me at least they play a part in plant choice. Names matter. Not to the exclusion of characteristics such as habit, growing conditions, flower colour etc, but they play a part. When a new plant – or its name – has a story to it this adds richness and interest. I love it when a plant has been named for the grower’s Great Aunt or favourite dog, or something stranger! I was entranced by some plant names on a walk back in early November.
A few years ago our Parish Council bought an extra plot of land adjacent to the existing playing fields. Part of this has been given over to allotments – though sadly only 19, 9 used as full plots the rest sub-divided. Needless to say there is a very long waiting list… However, there is also a Community Orchard, planted with 49 different varieties of apple, plum, pear, quince, damson and nut.
I knew that cobnuts were a cultivated variety of hazelnut , but had never heard of filberts. What a wonderful name! Apparently filberts are the oblong fruit of Corylus avellana pontica and C. Maxima whereas cobnuts are larger and round, coming from C. avellana grandis, all European natives. There is a certain poetry to the Latin names of plants, but I love the word “filbert”, it seems so very earthy and anglo-saxon. Except that it isn’t! It actually comes from the fact that Hazel blooms in February on St. Filbert’s Day and in Turkey, Greece and Italy, where over 90% of the world’s crop is grown, “Filbert” became the local name for the plant. Quite why it has found its way into a Gloucestershire orchard I’m not sure – perhaps because of the name?
Planted over the past four years, this is largely a traditional Gloucestershire orchard, full of varieties with strange and romantic names. ‘Wick White Styre’ originates from Berkeley Vale, just up the road from here, and ‘Peddington Brandy’ comes from Oldbury-on-Severn, again very close by. I love the fact that the children from the village primary school school – who produced the display board above – are getting to know apples that come from places they probably know well.
The first (very small!) apple harvest happened this October, when the local children picked the apples and then squeezed them for their juice. I assume they didn’t turn it in to cider! Gloucestershire, together with Worcestershire and Herefordshire, have a rich tradition of cider making. Apples are known to have grown in the UK well before the Romans arrived, but it was after the Norman Conquest in 1066 that cider became the drink of the common man. By 1300 cider was being produced in counties all over southern England. Every farm would have a few cider apples and would make their own cider, and at one time labourers were rated according to the amount of cider they drank, and it often formed part of their wages! According to the Gloucestershire Orchard Group 75% of Gloucestershire’s orchards have been lost in the past 50 years. I’m glad our village – with the help of a grant from South Gloucestershire Council – is preserving a small part of the county’s heritage.
Cider is made from pears as well as apples, although strictly speaking this is called Perry not Cider, and is an increasingly popular drink. Gloucestershire is home to one of the three National Collections of Perry Pears, established with Heritage Lottery Funding at Hartpury. Perry pears are very bitter, virtually inedible when unprocessed, but make a rather lovely tipple. ‘Judge Amphlett’ is named for Richard Amphlett, an Assizes court judge in the 1800s. ‘Hendre Huffcap’ originated in the Gloucestershire villages of Bromsberrow and Haresfield.
I think the strangest names are those of the plums though. ‘Rodley Black Jack’ comes from the village of Rodley, and is small and black, so perhaps the strangeness belongs with the village name itself, which is a whole other story. ‘Rowel’s Pruin’ comes from Arlingham, a village on the bend of the River Severn, and nobody seems to know where the name originates. I couldn’t even find a definition of ‘pruin’, just an alleged example of its use – “Now I go in to oyle my bells and pruin them”, which sounds a little scary. My favourite though – and I’m willing to bet it was chosen to interest the children – is the charmingly named ‘Shit Smock’ plum, which comes from Chaxhill. Apparently named for the effect of over indulgence in said fruit…