Sandy’s Garden ... Shasta Daisy

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

In my world, Burbank is still the home of the Lockheed Aviation Company.

The firm was at one time a competitor with Boeing, Douglas, de Havilland, Vickers and many other companies worldwide for sales of airliners to the airline industry. But time, as I know only too well, marches relentlessly on; and the last Lockheed product which I flew in was an L1011 Tristar many years ago. In 1995, Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin, which is now a worldwide developer and builder of advanced military and space vehicles.

Lockheed Martin still has a facility in Burbank, which is a city of upwards of 100 000 residents in Los Angeles County in Southern California, 12 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. And younger people than I might already know that, because of its proximity to Hollywood, Burbank is home to companies such as the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), the Walt Disney Company and Warner Brothers, a circumstance which has earned the city the unofficial title ‘Media Capital of the World.’

The city of Burbank was named after a certain David Burbank, an entrepreneur who established a sheep ranch there in 1867. And what brought all of this into my mind was a series of associations which started with an entirely different American gentleman, a horticulturist who rejoiced in the name Luther Burbank; and Luther Burbank has his name … usually in pretty small print admittedly ... in horticultural handbooks because, in 1890, he cross-bred Leucanthemum vulgare … a name derived from two Greek words and one Latin one, meaning ‘the common white flower’ … with Leucanthemum maximum … ‘the biggest white flower’ … and cross-bred this hybrid plant with Leucanthemum lacustre … ‘the outstanding white flower’. The resulting Leucanthemum triple hybrid was then cross-bred with Nipponanthemum nipponicum … ‘the Japanese daisy’ … to produce a plant called Leucanthemum superbum … the superb white flower’ …which gardeners are most likely to recognise under its common name – Shasta daisy. (When dogs are allowed to cross-breed in a similar way, we call the resulting puppies ‘mongrels’: but when plant breeders cross different species we call the mongrel plants ‘hybrids’ and treat them as thoroughbreds.)

The Shasta daisy was named after Mount Shasta, a 14 000-plus foot non-active volcano at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County in California. Mount Shasta is high enough to have a snow-capped peak for most of the year, even in southern California; and the petals of the Shasta daisy are the colour of clean snow in the sunshine – a very bright white. With its bright yellow centre surrounded by bright, white petals, the Shasta daisy looks like, well, a very large daisy; and if you can recognise a daisy, you’ll recognise a Shasta daisy when you see one. It is perennial … it will live for many years … in favourable conditions and is a favourite with gardeners worldwide, although some people find the scent of certain varieties quite unpleasant.

An undemanding plant, it is very happy in Scotland, which is not surprising when one knows that one of its grandparents … Leucanthemum vulgare … is better known by its common name of ox-eye daisy and grows wild throughout the British Isles and much of western Europe. Indeed, Shasta daisies are also happy to grow wild in Britain where they have ‘escaped’ from gardens. (I like the term ‘garden escapees’.) And yes, gentle reader, if you are wondering, my wife and I do have Shasta daisies in our own garden; and ox-eye daisies which ‘escaped’ from our garden thrive in the railway cutting behind our house.