Book Review: RHS Latin for Gardeners

RHS Latin for Gardeners2

If you love language and you love plants, then you’ll love this book. RHS Latin for Gardeners by Lorraine Harrison  explains all those tricky-to-pronounce botanical words attached to our dear plants, herbs and flowers.

The book itself – a hardback – has a lovely cover and is nicely bound… it looks pretty on your bookshelf! It is perfect as a reference book and for the odd dip into while drinking a cup of coffee. The main body of the book is an alphabetical list of botanical terms, each explained, with a pronunciation guide too. Here’s an example:

helix HEE-licks:

Spiral-shaped; applied to twining plants, as in Hedera helix

Now, I never knew “helix” meant that, but it makes sense….

I also never knew that the “novi-belgii” in Aster novi-belgii means “connected with New York”.

Or that the “bonariensis” in Verbena bonariensis means “from Buenos Aries”!

Or that “saccharata” in Pulmonaria saccharata means “sweet or sugared/as if dusted with sugar”.

And the list of discovery goes on!

I was pleasantly surprised how many I had guessed correctly, such as Cymbalaria muralis (“growing on walls”), and the information hidden within these words delivers excellent guidelines for planting… if a plant is from Buenos Aries it will like heat and sunshine, right?

A bonus is the pages in between the list… a few plants are profiled, with notes on how they got their name or certain associations and uses. And some famous plant hunters are also given a page or two, with examples of the plants they discovered on various continents.

This is the ideal gift for a keen gardener, and absolutely perfect for anyone fascinated by botanical plant names. It is already a favourite of mine, and the gardening season hasn’t even begun!

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32 thoughts on “Book Review: RHS Latin for Gardeners

    • Since the English and German common names are obviously different, I like to know the botanical names for when I chat to my Mum on the phone – I often say names differently to her and we confuse each other! (I suppose I say it the way the Germans do!)

  1. Hi Cathy! I have this book! I just love the gorgeous cover but haven’t managed to learn anything! Adam uses it a lot though because he is studying horticulture. I think it looks beautiful. I’m a big fan of nice looking books : ) !!

  2. Oh, I want this! I had even thought of taking a latin course just so I could learn more about plant names. Now I don’t have to do that – I can just read this book!

  3. Great recommendation. Learning the roots of the Latin names can often help with remembering the binomial tag of a plant, but it can also lead the unwary astray. Still a good way to pass an hour on a cold afternoon though.

  4. All the Latin I’ve learned (which, to be honest, isn’t much) has come from gardening. This sounds like a fascinating book, your review has me wanting to get hold of a copy soon!

  5. I’ve always loved the greek and latin of gardening!, Learning the botanical names was my favourite part of the course when I was completing my first qualification as a horticulturalist, while the other students were groaning through the plant Id classes I was just enthralled, by the language of plant names, which sounded just so poetic and rolled off the tongue!

  6. I think everything tastes better with etymology spread on it. The three years of Latin I took in high school have come in handy for understanding botanical terminology. The process has even been reciprocal, and my Latin vocabulary is larger now than it was when I was a teenager even though I’ve never taken another Latin course since then.

    • Thanks Steve. By the way, I’ve noticed a strange phenomena – Wikipedia in German often has much more detail on plants and botany than the equivalent English pages. One example was the Kolkwitzia I looked up earlier. (Here’s the link to the German page – from the length alone you can notice a difference: )

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