Article - Nemesia denticulata Confetti
What's in a name?
By David Ponton
Have you ever wondered why plants have all these obscure names?
Why they are always unpronounceable in Greek or Latin? Recently, I
was on a television show talking about a plant called Cypripedium reginae and when the name flashed up on the screen I just knew people would be wrestling each other in a frenzy to find the remote and change channel. There is without argument, elitism in these plant names, but why?
The answer is just good old fashioned snobbery. It goes back to the Royal Societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These societies, patronised by the monarch, were bastions of masculinity and empire. The upper echelons were educated at Oxford or Cambridge University and the elite committee members had all studied The Classics, i.e. Ancient Greek, Latin and Mythology.
So when it came to naming plants it had to relate to the understanding of The Classics, and the more obscure, the more they loved themselves. Let me give you an example. The beautiful much-loved, big-flowered, garden Peony (Paeonia) is named after Paeon who was the doctor to the Gods on Mt Olympus. Do you see what I mean? He wasn’t even an actual God, but their physician. Oh, how they must have toasted themselves with sherry with that hidden reference because no commoner would ever know who Paeon was.
Which brings me round to my plant for this month. It is the Nemesia denticulata Confetti. Lets begin this time, by getting to grips with the naming of this plant, because understanding the name can give us more enjoyment from our plants. You may, or may not have heard of Nemesis. She was the goddess of divine retribution in Ancient Greece, a common theme in Greek tragedies. Nemesis would come and get you and give you your just desserts, so you’d better behave.
Then, later from the Tragedies of Sophocles this idea was extended. Now your dead family and friends could also visit you in spirit form, to redress any injustice you did to them when they were alive. To stop these avenging spirits, you had to offer beautiful gifts and the offering of those gifts became known as Nemesia (I did warn you about The Classicists of the Royal Society - “Nemesia? What a wonderfully mystical reference Sir Walter, have a cigar!”)
The denticulata part of the name identifies it apart from other types of Nemesia. Just as a dentist relates to teeth, so denticulata means tooth shaped leaves. Other Nemesia have different shaped leaves, or different stem structures, and they have their own Latin description like Nemesia strumosa or Nemesia foetens. But for our plant of the month, we thus far have a plant so beautiful that it can keep the dead happy and it has tooth shaped leaves - Nemesia denticulata
The ‘Confetti’ part we all understand and this bit of the name comes, not from the scholars, but from the breeder. Breeders are more grounded, earthy, gardener types and as this plant is covered with continual clouds of sugar-pink, highly scented flowers from May to October, I imagine the breeder shouting, “Come quick Marge! It looks like it’s covered in confetti!” Now we have the full name Nemesia denticulata Confetti.
The Nemesia Confetti is an absolute cracking hardy garden perennial. It looks particularly stunning alongside a pathway and is so easy to grow. It is unfussy on soil conditions and grows in sun or part shade. If you are a patio gardener it looks majestic in containers and borders and has a lovely compactness having a height and spread of 30x30cms (12x12in). Yet it is without doubt the soft pink scented flowers and its prolonged flowering period that make it such an attractive plant. So much so, that the Royal Horticultural Society gave it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit.
To receive an AGM is the highest praise, many thousands of plants try every year for this accolade but few are chosen. August and early September are ideal months to establish the young Nemesia. Though they are hardy and can survive our winters, they have their origins in Southern Africa. This means the young plants respond better to warm soils and allows them to build strong root systems in their ideal environment, simply ensure they have sufficient water. You will get some of the wonderful confetti like flowers this autumn and the plant will join in the full May - October cycle next year.
This is a stunning beauty and now you know how it is named I hope it adds to your enjoyment. This is your gardening correspondent, Zeus Madman Redhead signing off until next time!