How can we reconcile the necessity of using Latin names (so we know what the heck we’re talking about) with the old-fashioned charm and personal associations of common plant names?
Select Seeds, for example, has Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate, listed in the ks rather than under Polygonum orientale (though it gives this name along with its pronunciation). It also has Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) and Love-in-a-Puff (Cardiospermum halicabum). The dilemma for me has more to do with the fact that only the first is available as a plant—I fear seeds much more than names—but it seems to me that you have to use both names, one to express the cottage garden lineage of these cultivars and one to correctly identify them in the botanical world.
Though most of us seem to agree that the use of Latin names is preferable, it’s not catching on much in the real world. I wouldn’t mind if all the common names were as cool as Ragged Robin or Queen Anne’s Thimble. Unfortunately, these romantic and fanciful names (and the plants they represent) are just as archaic to most gardeners as multi-syllabic botanical handles.
I found some interesting comments on the subject in a lively thread on Gardenweb:
The common names were created by and for common/casual/the-majority-of gardeners who don’t want to, and don’t intend to learn another language in order to plant a few shrubs, annuals and perennials. These casual gardeners make up the vast majority of the folks who buy plants and gardening stuff.
I once used only Latin names but they seem increasingly useless. The problem is they are less stable than the common ones.
As for me, it drives me crazy to hear visitors referring to my painstakingly-chosen—and pricey!—varieties of species lilium as daylilies during Garden Walk, and I know the careless American nursery business is at least partially to blame for this. Many in this trade don’t really care whether we know which plants we’re buying as long as they get our money.
On the other hand, I’m longing for the day when I can point to a bed and say “Oh, that’s Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate, Love-in-a-Puff, and Ragged Robin.”