I got an email on Tuesday from Tim, a good friend of mine, which came with this image of a much-loved flower belonging to his grandma. The only problem is, she doesn't know what it is.
I have some sympathy with this. For a start, I didn't recognise this bizarre specimen myself. I guessed it was a monocot growing from a bulb, which rules out about three-quarters of the plant world; but that still left about 59,000 of them to wade through.
My luck came when I took a chance that Tim's grandma had bought something relatively common, which I just didn't recognise out of stupidity.
I picked up the nearest bulb catalogue (as I am classy, this was Avon Bulbs' autumn
offering) and by page 34 I had a firm identification, with Avon describing the flower as "extraordinary, composed of a plume of many purple strands giving a rather fluffy appearance. A slightly weird addition." Well at least they admit it.
The general problem of the mystery plant spreads wider than this, though. There's nothing more frustrating to me than a garden where desirable plants remain unlabelled - though Typing on the Void's Pete Free completely disagrees. And elsewhere in the blogosphere, authors wrestle with the time-honoured problem of no longer knowing quite exactly what it is that they originally planted.
I don't know what to do about the mystery plants in my garden. The names of two roses I always used to remember seem to have recently gone the way of the fairies, and the plants I bought at Beth Chatto's in May without bothering to label (there you have to Do It Yourself: like at IKEA, it keeps the prices down) are left similarly nameless.
My only solution is to do what Tim did: use the internet to email a picture to someone who might know what you are on about.
*For those longing to buy the slightly weird plant, it's Muscari comosum plumosum. And please feel free to give yourself about 100 bonus points if you knew what it was without help. I take my hat off to you.