In a moment of serendipity, I flicked on the TV the other day while getting dressed for a meeting, just in time to happen upon a segment of Martha Stewart's daily show which featured Dan Hinkley of Heronswood Nursery. One of these days I'll order the Heronswood catalog, primarily to see the plants he's introduced from Korea (the flora of Korea being an interest that's gently simmering on the back burner...for now). My mental picture of Dan Hinkley is constructed from Jamaica Kincaid's descriptions in My Garden (Book): (pub. info. here), in which he appears as a friend and companion traveler on a seed-gathering expedition in China. I don't know quite what I expected, but I remembered this image from the book:
...but I could not keep up with Dan; he bounded up the mountain like a four-footed furry mammal (a bear) and disappeared. I only knew how to follow him by seeing the trembly branches and flattened undergrowth that were left in his wake.On TV? Definitely not the wild-eyed, sunburned explorer...rather, a mild-mannered regular guy, wardrobe inspired by Mister Rogers (albeit with v-neck sweater instead of cardigan), who clearly has done a good job of remembering to use his sunscreen. He and Martha chatted about seed gathering and seed exchange organizations, and did a little "show-and-tell" on seeds collected from their respective gardens.
So, Dan Hinkley pronounces clematis "clem-a-tis". I myself bounce back and forth, but mainly settle on "cle-mat-is". This dictionary accommodates both. But I like Lauren Springer's attitude in her plant portraits' pronunciation guide in The Undaunted Garden (pub. info. here):
The pronunciation guide is not meant to be a rigid put-off--it is a guide, nothing more. There is no wrong way to pronounce a botanical name unless the syllables are out of order or a person's name is mangled in the process.(By the way, Lauren favors "clem-a-tis".)
The pronunciation guides in the back of Horticulture magazine are also of interest, and helpful in using phonetic spelling ("KLEM-uh-tiss") as the guide instead of those symbols that I haven't thought about and can't remember since eighth grade. (Quick...what's the schwa sound...and the symbol for it?) I loved, in the way that only a true geekazoid can, this footnote in Horticulture's November/December 2003 issue on the pronunciation for Agave:
The pronunciation uh-GAH-vay, whether as a common name or a generic epithet, is nearly universal for these plants. The origin of the word, however, is not Spanish (which the common pronunciation might lead one to expect), but rather the ancient Greek agauos, meaning illustrious or noble. When agauos is Latinized as Agave, the rules of pronunciation for botanical Latin require a long a sound in the second syllable, hence uh-GAY-vee, which is favored by several authoritative sources. Of course, readers are free to regard this as nonsense and pronounce the word as they darn well please.However, my faith is sorely shaken by Horticulture's prescription for anemone (September/October 2003 issue): an-ih-MOE-nee. Really? Have you ever met anyone who pronounced it that way, instead of ah-NEM-on-ee? Dictionary.com lists only one pronunciation (hah! the right one).
Then there are the blasted botanical family names, all ending in "ceae". It's been quite a trial, going from high school Latin pronunciations to Anglojurisprudential Latin pronunciations to, now, botanical Latin pronunciations. (Wish I'd had this, which is both a handy cheat sheet as well as an interesting historical guide to competing ways of pronouncing words in Latin.) It was hard enough figuring out in law school that "res" ("the thing" in Latin) wasn't to be pronounced "ress" anymore (as in "quae res et cibi genere et cotidiana exercitatione et libertate vitae" from the fourth book of Caesar's The Gallic Wars, not that I ever read that far), but "reese". Now, when I want to say Malva-ceae, or Ranuncula-ceae, or Lilia-ceae, the rules of botanical Latin seem to augur against the more mellifluous "see-aye" (without a glottal stop), and, instead call for "see-ee" (impossible to say without a glottal stop). Hard to pronounce without feeling like Nicolas Cage at the payphone in Honeymoon in Vegas, tripping over native Hawaiian ("is that 'Ka-pu-ah-ah' or 'Ka-pu-ah-ah-ah'?"). But here's another problem--wouldn't the purist call for the "C" to always be pronounced as a hard "C"? (Nar-KISS-us instead of Nar-SISS-us?) Thus, not "see-aye", and not even "see-ee", but "kee-ee"? Forget it. I'll do in Rome as the Romans do, once the Romans figure out what they're doing.