On the naming of things


Once upon a time, there was a knight called Sir Topiass who turned into a tree… and then into something else…

On Saturday, the Obrienaternal household paid one of its occasional visits to the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, one of Vancouver’s vegetative delights, for some leisurely herboriser.

One of my favourite plants there is the SPURGE. There are several varieties. My first reason for liking this plant is its name. Try saying it aloud a few times. It’s one of these words that you can’t say without making an amusing facial expression—S then PU—and slowly smiling—URGE. Slow it down. -R- purring gently. Rolling down then back up, to end in a that little hop/skip/jump of -GE.

May SPURGE bring you, too, happiness.

It’s a slightly Seussianly whimsical plant to look at, and tough and resilient, flexibly elegant.

Here are some Spurges, from the aforementioned gardens in May last year:

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The Martini Hybrid”
Once upon a fine summer’s day, Dr Frankenstein and Friar Mendel met for a leisurely late afternoon drink with the fairies at the bottom of the garden. And the rest, as they say, is history.

One of the things I like about these gardens is that they have plenty of labels on plants, which change with the seasons. Visiting the garden is like walking in a living book. The garden would be beautiful in winter if they were to plant out all the names of all the plants that are dormant (or dead) at that time. A garden of words.

I was somewhat disappointed on this visit to be spurge-less for most of our meanderings. I wouldn’t go so far as to declare myself woefully bereft and disconsolate, but I might have done, had I not finally met a sole heroic remaining spurge at the very end, or at least its post-procumbens grave-marker, just before we left. Ghostly echoes, le ton beau du tombeau.


The other names I photographed were mainly because they amused me and/or were medievally reminiscent in some way. Here is the stuff of stories, past and possible future.


  • take a single image and name and sally forth “Once upon a time…”
  • take three and weave them into an elegant simple fable
  • take a whole set (they’re in random order) and spin a whole story, or germinate a grand narrative cycle, out of them
  • like living green Story Cubes, for this the longest day; or save them up for finding, making, and telling tales on the longest night

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The Tale of Sir Topiass (2)

The Tale of Sir Topiass (3)

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