Friday, September 23, 2011

More homage to Gertrude Jekyll

Here and there around the area in local wood verges the white woods aster is blooming freely. Generations of gardeners have known and grown this plant as Aster divaricatus. Recently the old name Eurybia divaricata has been revived. The name Eurybia dates from the early nineteenth century, so it is nothing new.

In her 1909 work COLOUR IN THE FLOWER GARDEN Gertrude Jekyll calls this plant the small wire-stemmed aster and gives two photographs of it. I take that as a measure of her esteem; back in those days, photographs in a book were an expense and a bother. In the garden, Jekyll combined these asters  with the plant she knew as Megasea, the big, cabbage-leaf saxifrage we now call Bergenia. The plants form a great contrast:  the broad, glossy, corrugated leaves of the Bergenia are an intriguing foil for the shiny, black, wiry stems and white stars of the aster .

Jekyll’s account of this plant raises a question for me. Here is her text: “There is a small growing perennial Aster – I will not venture on its specific name, but have seen it figured in an American book of wild flowers as divaricata, and provisionally know it by that name.” The genus name Aster is masculine in gender; the genus name Eurybia is feminine. Did the American wild flower book Jekyll mentions call the plant Eurybia divaricata?

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