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AbeliaFor an example of a genus name derived from that of a real person we need look no further than Abelia, which acquired its name from a certain Dr. Clarke Abel. Inevitably life has its ups and downs, though Clarke's short but interesting span set standards that could well have inspired a roller-coaster designer. Born in 1780 in Bungay, Suffolk, he made his escape from the confusion of having a grandfather, father and brother all called Matthias by shunning the family businesses of shopkeeping and banking to study medicine. Alas the elevated status of physician failed to safeguard him from his brother whose activities caused the bankruptcy of all the family businesses in 1815, and Clarke experienced his first feeling of weightless free fall. Having bottomed out financially, Clarke dusted himself off and soon started his next ascent by gaining the position of naturalist and physician with Lord Amherst's mission to China in 1816, where he then travelled for two years collecting over 300 botanical specimens. Nowadays even pop lyricists have been inspired to compare life to a roller-coaster, but an elated young Clarke was soon to appreciate that sinking feeling again, when the ship in which he was returning from China ran aground on an uncharted reef. Despite the crewmen tipping most of his specimens overboard so that his chests could be used to save other items, Clarke struggled manfully ashore with one chest only to see it taken and burnt by pirates. Crestfallen, he returned to Britain with just a few specimens that he had left with a friend in Canton, one of which is now known as Abelia chinensis. With another flick of his clothes brush, off came the dust and he set off up the next incline by publishing a book about his exploits in China, a good copy of which will now achieve around $3,000. This led to his prestigious appointment as physician to the Governor-General of India, and at the pinnacle of his ride he died there in 1826, whereupon the Abelia genus was named in honour of his contribution to botany. Life is hard and then you die, or so it is said. From this genus of 30 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs grown mainly for their profuse flowers, the Grand Redesign supplied us with one A. x grandiflora, literally meaning large-flowered hybrid. Although botanist and humour are not words that you expect to find in the same sentence, this epithet provides confirmation that at least one botanist once appreciated satire as only a hyperactive imagination would seriously consider these flora to be grand. Described as having flowers 2cm long, that could hardly be considered as large even in the Abelia genus where at least two species can claim larger flowers. It is said that size isn't everything and in all fairness 2cm is larger than its two parents, A. chinensis and A. uniflora, but we strained to see when it was in bloom. Despite it being supposed to flower from July until autumn the display was decidedly sparse, and the pink-tinged white flowers were neither prominent nor prolific. Reputedly vigorous and evergreen, our example laboured to reach 50cm in height after four years, a mere one-sixth of the ultimate 3m, and every time it produced a couple of new shoots, others died back. It was also at best semi-evergreen, which conspired with its insipid flowers and lack of vigour to determine its fate. It became compost, and a pittosporum took its place. I've probably been a little harsh on Abelia, preferring as they do a well-drained soil in full sun to heavy clay beneath an overhanging stag's horn sumac, but when positioned toward the back of a wide border it was a non-starter. By all accounts A. 'Edward Goucher' is the best of this bunch, but we can probably chalk A. x grandiflora up to the designer as wrong plant, wrong place, whilst we imitate Dr. Abel and dust ourselves off.