When I was an undergraduate studying anthropology, we spent some time on the neolithic, that significant transition from hunting and gathering to the growing of crops. What made the cultivation of grains possible was a genetic flaw: grain whose seed heads failed to burst and scatter their contents. This same flaw meant that grain could be gathered, threshed, stored and planted. Probably this discovery would have been made by women who, in a hunting and gathering society, do the gathering. Interestingly, this possibility was not, as I recall, discussed when I was studying the neolithic.
The discovery of grain which could be gathered and subsequently planted to yield another crop would have been of little value had the knowledge — and, presumably, some of the grain — not been diffused. And this is where I can imagine the trading instincts of the proto gardeners would have been essential. Gardeners love swapping and trading knowledge and plants, and I can imagine women in these proto-neolithic communities exchanging information and seeds, giving rise to the spread of the earliest forms of agriculture.
Decades after finishing my degree, I was introduced to another interesting field: the study of innovation. The pioneering work on the diffusion of innovations took place in the context of agricultural extension work in the mid West of the USA. Extension workers were interested in finding out how new trends — including new crop varieties — were disseminated among farmers, and that research revealed that this is essentially a social rather than a technical process. And this is also what is also true of the dissemination of new varieties in gardening.
In our garden are many plants whose progenitors were gifts from fellow gardeners. Virtually all of these plants are named after the donors. So, one of the most prolific and colourful of the hardy geraniums is for ever known to us as ’Pauline’s geranium’ (see photograph), and there is John’s fuchsia, Patricia’s hosta, Pamela’s skimmia, Clare’s sedum, and so on. Similarly, in the house, there is Maureen’s cape primrose, Damon’s clivea and Meg and Hug’s hibiscus (in fact, the latter two plants spend the summer in the garden.) The result is that the garden has become populated not only with plants, but also with friends.
No doubt this eponymous style of naming plants would have been practised in neolithic times. And, as new varieties have evolved, other people’s names have been used. A particularly vivid hardy geranium in the border is named after Ann Folkard. I wonder who she was? And who, I wonder, was Mrs Robb, whose name is commemorated in the extremely invasive euphorbia robbiae which I spent last summer eradicating from the garden? I don’t expect ever to know, but what I do know is that my modest garden is much the better for being stocked with Pauline’s geranium, Patricia’s hosta, and the other plants whose donors are commemorated in the names we use to identify the plants which they originally donated.
Posted by ronald at 10:19
- 10 Jun, 2010
- 0 likes
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