I have two nieces dear to me. One's name is Stephanie and the other Katie Lynn. I told Stephanie that the Stephanotis flower was part of her name and Katie immediately wanted to know what flower's name would apply in her case. I checked the dictionary but could find nothing I could pass on to her. Can you help? Surely there is some flower's name which could apply.
You and Katie should meet professor Orin Gelderloos, director of natural areas at University of Michigan-Dearborn's Environmental Interpretive Center. He sees that gardeners have become more conscious of their impact on the environment at large and are having important, positive effects on the ecosystem -- the air, soil, water and living things that surround them.
This ethic is at work, says Gelderloos, when people choose plants specifically to support butterflies and beneficial insects, or to supply homes and foods for birds. It's causing us to modify our techniques to keep harmful chemicals out of the air and the groundwater.
You are doing one of the most important things Gelderloos sees gardeners doing to support and advance this trend -- educating someone about the natural world.
Children are high on Gelderloos' list of people to enroll in an environmental gardening ethic. He's planted a tree for each of his grandchildren. Each child knows that tree's name, where it fits into a woods, and how many inches it grows per year because he or she is involved in its planting and care. You're doing the same by giving your nieces totems -- links to a specific part of nature. From that portal they can discover how all things are connected and how they, personally, fit into the world. Bravo!
Another naturalist, Mark Catesby, was much admired as a botanist and as an ornithologist of the Carolinas and Florida in the early 1700's. His work may be as important to the science of birds as that of John James Audubon.
Although Catesby isn't spelled like Katie it sounds like it -- say "Kate's Bee" -- and it's attached to plants that might become your Katie's bridge to the wider world.
Trillium catesbaei, Catesby's trillium, is a woodland beauty with large white nodding flowers. Its petals curl at the tips like delicate scrolls and blush with pink as they age. It's not only uncommon in gardens but endangered in nature, so if you seek to buy it, deal only with growers who do not collect from the wild. Ethical growers sell only what they grow from seed or division at their own nurseries. They feature this information in their catalogs because they are proud to be increasing the numbers of a species and its chances of survival.
Although Catesby oak (Quercus laevis) isn't hardy here, would Katie like to know she's linked to something alternately known as turkey oak? Catesby's lilythorn (Catesbaea spinosa) is another possibility, if there's a prickly side to your niece's personality that could be humored.
Given 20,00 named varieties of daylily, it's possible to find almost any name, including 'Katie,' if you read enough catalogs. The trouble is finding it, or any one daylily among so many.
I know you'll have fun with this. Why not look for a plant called "lucky ladies," too? Because that's what your nieces are!
Planning a name garden?
You can build an entire garden, on paper if not in your yard, full of plants that reflect a person's appearance or character. Work from a common name index to plants. You can find one in the weightier plant encyclopedias such as "Hortus Third" or on the Internet by searching for "plant common name index."
There are so many plant names that even if you don't find the given name you seek, you're bound to find a pet name or description among choices like angel's eye, angelica, baby blue eyes, bidgee widgee, blooming fool, blazing star, buttercup, freckle face, goldilocks, little pickles, nap-at-noon, nicker tree, none-so-pretty, queen of the meadow, spring beauty, sweet pea, wahoo, or youth-and-old-age!
to insiders' jokes in a garden. Even if no one else sees the humor, I smile each time I walk by my "misfits" ward, where I've grown plants like Chamaecyparis obtusa, Digitalis obscura, Consolida ambigua and Primula erratica.
to gardeners who defy that law of gravity, "what goes up, must come down," says D.D. "I'm the one who does all the wheelbarrowing in our marriage and it simply amazes me that my assignments always involve moving dirt uphill, never down!"
Originally published 2/8/03