How did the delphinium get its name? Which parts of the body lend their names to auriculas and orchids? Who are the gentian, lobelia and heuchera named after? Why are nasturtiums and antirrhinums connected? What does an everlasting pea have to do with Indian miniature paintings?
These are some of the questions answered in Peter Parker's adventurous exploration of the mysteries of Botanical Latin.
Evolved over many centuries and often thought to belong to the rarefied world of scholars and scientists, this invented language is in fact a very useful tool for everyday gardening. It allows us to find our way around nurseries; it sorts out confusions when two plants have the same English name; and it gives us all kinds of information about how big or small a plant will grow, what shape or colour it will develop, and what habitat it prefers.
In his lively survey, Parker agues that Botanical Latin is not merely useful, but fun. The naming of plants draws upon geography, social and medical history, folklore, mythology, language, literature, the human body, the animal kingdom and all manner of ancient beliefs and superstitions.
A Little Book of Latin for Gardeners, beautifully illustrated with old woodcuts, explains how and why plants have been named, includes handy lists of identifying adjectives, and takes the reader down some of the stranger byways of human endeavour and eccentricity.
Peter Parker was born in Herefordshire and educated in the Malverns, Dorset and London. He is the author of The Last Veteran, The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public-School Ethos and biographies of J.R. Ackerley and Christopher Isherwood. He was an associate editor of The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and writes about books and gardening for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines. He lives in London's East End.