Latin Names Are Your Friend

Take rosemary, for example. The English word “rosemary” is a transliteration of the genus name, which is Rosmarinus. Now break that word apart into its two elements. Ros means “rose,” and marinus means “of the sea.” (Think of the English word “marine.”} So Rosmarinus means “rose of the sea.”

And therein lies the secret of success: This plant thrives in maritime climates. In fact, it’s native to the Mediterranean region, where the air is always moist and the soil is dry and rather rocky.

This photo was taken in a home garden on the coast of Washington state, less than one mile from the ocean. That black pot on the far right will give you an idea of scale: it’s a one-gallon size. The plant is about 3 years old, and the homeowner does absolutely nothing except water it haphazardly and whack it back when it threatens to engulf the lawnmower.

The moral of the story is this: don’t be afraid of Latin names. They’ll help you find just the plant you want, tell you something fascinating about where it came from and who discovered it, and maybe give you good gardening advice — All for free.

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