Bothy boys

From: An Economic History of the English Garden (2019), by Roderick Floud:

“Young gardeners were expected to devote their lives to the job and to live next to their place of work, in the bothy…it is sometimes difficult to believe that young men were expected to live in such damp and cramped conditions…

The pub, and girls, were seen as a distraction from what the bothy boys should be doing, which was improving their gardening knowledge. John Claudius Loudon urged that employers should provide a library of garden books for the apprentices and journeymen, although in many places this simply amounted – Hooper recalls – to tattered copies of the Gardeners’ Chronicle. Nevertheless, the trainees were expected to study, by candlelight, in the evenings and also to use the resources of the garden – the plants – to improve their botanical knowledge. Andrew Turnbull, who also became a head gardener, remembered going out into the garden every evening after working hours in the early 1820s to study and memorise the names of fifty plants, checking them the next evening before learning more, and Sue Dickinson, later head gardener to Lord Rothschild at Eythrope, recalls doing much the same in the 1970s. It gave her, she feels, an invaluable training as a plantswoman.”

Jill M. Nicolaus writes at

“…Although most of the members of Dave’s Garden live in the United States, we have a growing international membership. Scientific names are invaluable when communicating across linguistic and cultural barriers. On a recent airline trip, I sat next to a woman from the Netherlands. We had just enough language in common to discover a mutual interest in gardening, but to our dismay many flower names just didn’t translate well. If we hadn’t known some Latin names, our conversation would have been very brief.

Latin is used for scientific names because it’s a “dead,” unchanging language. Whether you are researching 200 year old plantation records, reading a German botanical journal, or buying seeds from Thailand, the Latin name will tell you exactly what plant is being discussed.

Every plant has a place in a whole series of categories – from kingdom to phylum, class, subclass, order, family, and finally to genus and species. A species is generally defined by reproduction: plants within the same species can cross and produce fertile offspring. Plants in the same genus are closely related, but usually can’t interbreed. Within a species, named cultivars have distinctive characteristics that “come true” from one generation to the next, either from seed or by vegetative propagation.

You don’t have to try to learn the Latin names of every plant in your garden all at once. Look up a couple of botanical names when you’re sorting your seeds. When you search for information in PlantFiles, don’t just skip over the family, genus, and species names at the top. After a while, the names will become familiar, and they won’t seem so awkward to use. Then, you’ll start to appreciate their usefulness. What’s in a name? Actually, quite a lot!”

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