Collective Nouns and other Trivia


The Christmas New Year statutory holidays see a whole lot of sitting around talking here. Without young children (we are in that hiatus of our own children being adult but no grandchildren showing yet even on distant horizons), this period is more about having unaccustomed leisure.

There is little talk about gardening – the family and friends around us at this time are not gardeners. Just lots of memories and reminiscences and gossip and laughs. And frivolous conversation.

We started with Australian based daughter talking about the new breeds of dogs commanding high prices. Apparently poodles are not prone to causing allergies in humans but not everybody wants a poodle so they are being crossed with other breeds. Her boyfriend’s family have a Maltoodle (Maltese Terrier x poodle). I forebore from pointing out that owning a Maltoodle is possibly more embarrassing than our having owned a couple of chihuahuas at a point well before Paris Hilton made them trendy. A Cavoodle is apparently a cross between poodle and Cavalier King Charles spaniel. But it was the Labradoodle that caught my fancy. It is not that I like Labradors, but I would like to be able to say that I had a Labradoodle.

I then found somebody’s notes on collective nouns for birds. Readers will know of the gaggle of geese and the flock of swallows. I was charmed by the exaltation of larks (obviously these were of English origin), the murmuration of starlings and the mutation of thrushes (sounds dangerous). The godwits seemed to have the better end of the deal, being a walk of godwits when they are on sand and a wisp of godwits when they are in flight.

Mark suggested there was potential with naming plantings of trees. Out with groves, orchards and forests. He started the ball rolling with a flummox of pohutakawa. From there we added:

  • an endurance of marcrocarpas
  • a dominance of pines
  • a theft of Yucca elephantipes
  • an investment of cycads
  • an optimism of kauri
  • a speculation of avocados.

My finest contribution, I felt, was a pretension of olives.

How nerdy can one get, having extended Christmas conversations on the topic of collective nouns? It was only later that I found the ubiquitous internet shows that we are not alone in thinking ourselves frightfully witty. A house guest found a whole website devoted to this topic.

And as my gardening efforts this week have been limited to deadheading the renga renga lilies (which look much better for it) and cutting off the untidy long runners on the espaliered dwarf apples, I will have to resort to Mark’s mother’s gardening diary to entertain readers.

I chuckled over her November 1 entry. “We have been away all week at the ’53 Rhodo Conference. We left early on the Monday and wandered our way down to Palmerston North, stopping a night at Wanganui on the way.” As they drove a Humber Super Snipe in 1953, they must have wandered very slowly indeed, stopping frequently to fire up the thermette. I am not sure when thermoses came readily available but I am pretty sure that back in the fifties, one used to burn a few bits of straw and twigs to heat the water contained in the metal sleeve surrounding this mini fire. I was raised in a family with a thermette too.

But it was the political overtones of her entry on the growing of orange trees which aroused more mirth. “Today Sunday 27th Sept 1953, we took a run out to see Dr Gordon at her request. She wanted us to agree with her on the subject of ‘another orange’ for her garden. I didn’t agree although we started her off on the orange growing stunt, but she really has enough citrus for her little section.

“There is no doubt that they are outstanding as a winter decoration as well as an asset but even on trifoliata stock (dwarfing stock – Abbie) they grow a fair size in time. If only more people would grow one orange instead of the odd person trying to grow more than one, the community would benefit.”

Apparently she did not see herself as a member of the proletariat, to be limited to a single orange tree. Mark stood at our bedroom window this morning and pronounced that he could see too many orange trees. We must have about a dozen surviving from that era, as well as the assorted mandarins, tangelos, grapefruits, Tahitian lime and lemon trees. And while his parents may have been generous people in many other respects, it did not seem to extend to the citrus. These were still a rarity in gardens in the fifties and over the years we have had many garden visitors tell us tales of stealing these highly prized fruit from Felix and Mimosa. Mind you, back then when I was a child in Dunedin, we still used to get an orange (one orange each) in our Christmas stockings. To my English mother, they were a luxury. I imagine they were all imported back then and probably still expensive. Now they are a staple in our diet.

And mother in law was right. Not only are the orange trees attractive in winter and useful in their yields of fine fruit, they are one of the major fragrances which waft around our garden in spring. Orange blossom is indeed a heady scent. If you live in an area where you can grow an orange tree, you could do worse than following her advice and planting one – for your own benefit if not as a community resource.

Abbie and Mark Jury have a garden and nursery at Otaraoa Rd, Tikorangi.