What’s in a Name: Lavender Richard Gray AGM (Lavandula × Chaytoriae ‘Richard Gray’)

There are many different ways your name can be immortalised: be the first to climb Everest or the second to reach the South Pole; write Hamlet or create Harry Potter; conquer the world like Alexander or defend it like Churchill; put your name on a pen like Biro or on a vacuum cleaner like Dyson. The last route is highly effective but, in time, It will be the object (rather than its inventor that remains known) – just ask Jules Léotard, Rudolf Diesel, Henry Shrapnel, Domenico de Comma, Amelia Jenks Bloomer (the undergarments, not the loaf) or James Thomas Brudenell, seventh earl of Cardigan. And so it is in the horticultural world where thousands of new discoveries and promising hybrids are named after people every year….
Which brings us to one of my favourite lavenders, Lavender Richard Gray (Lavandula × Chaytoriae ‘Richard Gray’). The Chaytorae is in honour of Dorothy Chaytor who wrote a famous monograph on lavender in 1937 – but who, then, is Richard Gray? For the answer we must go back to the mid 1980s and to the Alpine and Herbaceous Department at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew…
One of the standard approaches of plant breeders is to cross a strong, reliable variety with one that offers a more striking characteristic in the hope of getting the best of both worlds. And so several breeders – including the team at Kew – were crossing the ever- trustworthy Lavandula Angustifolia (English Lavender) with Lavandula Lanata (Woolly Lavender), a shrubby native of southern Spain, renowned for the silver hairs on its leaves.
The Assistant Curator (and Chelsea Judge), Brian Halliwell, noticed that one of the hybrid lavender seedlings he and his colleagues had germinated displayed characteristics unlike a typical  Lavandula Lanata. The seedling was isolated and nurtured to adulthood when its early promise was fulfilled. Brian then named this distinctive new lavender after a member of the horticultural staff, Richard Gray. Perhaps he was inspired by the name: ‘Gray’ for its‘grey’ foliage. Since leaving Kew, Richard has slipped from view, but, thanks to the generosity of his then boss, he has achieved horticultural immortality.
In the next post, we’ll discover just how special this result of the Team’s patience and diligence really is…