Terminology — a Mini-Glossary

In This Section:

I am a child of the metric conversion era, which means Iím equally at home with centimetres and inches. So you will find I use either, seemingly at random, throughout the catalogue. Consistency in writing is boring! For those with trouble converting, an inch is about half a thumb, a foot is about half to 3/4 of knee-high; a cm is about a finger width, and a metre might as well be 3í. But you wonít get any marks for using these conversions in your kidís homework!

Inflorescence Types (flower groupings); these follow proper horticultural usage, as far as I am aware. I admit that in general if I can't figure out which type they are I just use the catchall "Cluster".







Spikes and racemes can look pretty similar, the difference being just that in a raceme the flowers are attached to the main stem with a short flower stem, whereas in a spike the flowers come directly from the main stem.

Plant Form: These are my own usages, and may or may not be the same as used by others. Obviously , when trying to put things into specific pigeonholes of form there are many (too many!) plants which are really a combination of several, and how they are assessed can vary. Anyways, here are a few...

eg. Old-fashioned Bleeding HeartMainly basal foliage, single or sparsely branched flower stem; eg foxglove, veronicaFoliage forming a rounded shape, flowers held not much above the leaves; eg. Geranium sanguineum.
Vertically-emerging leaves and stems from a tight base; eg. many grasses, and on a large scale, Irises and daylilies.Most foliage on the stems; eg. Monarda, goldenrod.Foliage forming a rounded shape, flowers held well above this foliage on long stems; eg Columbines.
or Trailing: ground-hugging foliage stems, flowers may be held proud on stems, or not; eg. Dianthus deltoides.Mainly basal foliage, heavily branched flower stems. Eg. Knautia, Eryngium
Leaves and flowers on heavily branched stems; eg. baby’s breath.
Sprawling: Stems not self-supporting but not deliberately ground-hugging; eg. Stokesia laevis; some Dianthus. 

Architectural: coarse/ bold leaves and stem forms giving a sculptural effect; eg. Scottish Thistle.


Colonization Habit
Mainly I try to follow proper horticultural usage.

Note that I classify plants with rhizomes to be clump forming, and those with stolons to be mat-forming. Both types of spreading I further modify as one of:Creeping: very short, to 6” per year;
Walking: medium length, 6-12” per year;
Running: long, more than 12” per year.
Rhizomes are like specialized roots which grow new plants at the tip and often at nodes along the length of the rhizome. They can be very long or very short.

eg. Creeping Clump: iris; tall phlox.
Walking Clump: Monarda.
Running Clump: Achillea; Crab grass.

Stolons are like specialized stems which grow a new plant at the end; sometimes, as in strawberries, multiple plants develop along the same stolon. Because stolons are visible, plants spreading in this manner are generally easier to control than a rhizomatous plant of equal aggressiveness.eg. Creeping Mat: Antennaria.
Walking Mat: Ajuga.
Running Mat: Strawberry plants.
There are also plants which form a tight multiple-crowned group. I refer to this as just Clump-forming, with no modifier;  eg. Delphinium; balloon flower.
Spreading colonizers form roots and eventually new plants wherever the stems make firm contact with the ground;  eg. creeping phlox.
Many bulb-forming plants increase by Offsets, which is the splitting off of smaller bulblets from the main bulb;  eg. onions; daffodils.

Some Other Terms:

Under “Some Uses:”, Berries or Fruit implies ornamental value, not edibility (some are, some aren’t)!

Dioecious: plants carrying only male or female flowers.

Monocarpic: perennials that take several years before they flower, and then die at the end of that season.

My shorthand:

Included in the name line you may see the letters cv, cs or ex- followed by a name in single quotes.
cv: cultivar; propagated only vegetatively
cs: plants grown from seed of a cultivated ‘seed strain’
ex-: seed collected from the cultivar named.

Cultivar: a plant propagated only by vegetative means (division, cuttings, tissue culture...) and all are pretty much identical. Cultivars come from selecting a significantly attractive natural variation, or from deliberate hybridizing.

Seed Strains: plants are of controlled parentage and will exhibit some quite uniform characteristics either in terms of form or flower colour or both. Many seed strains produce very uniform plants whereas others are noteworthy for the wide range of flower colours produced. Some purist plant professionals do not recognize the existence of seed strains, but horticulturists find them significant in terms of their ornamental distinctness.

Seed from cultivars may often result in plants exhibiting some close resemblance to the cultivar but are not fully identical. Mostly this serves to identify at least partially the parentage of a plant so some expected appearance can be known. Use of the cultivar name without indicating in some way that the plants come from seed is wrong: misleading and ultimately contributing to great confusion; and I donít like to use the species name unmodified in some way either, because the genetics of the plants is often in some ways different from the various wild populations.

Loam: I use the word “loam” in the proper horticultural context: Loam is defined as a soil containing roughly 25% clay and about 38% each of silt and sand Organic content doesn’t enter into it, but of course some organic content is also of benefit. Some gardeners and authors tend to use ‘loam’ to mean anything with lots of organic matter without too much regard for the mineral content; this can cause trouble for the perennial gardener! So please remember the real loam!

Poor Soils and Rich Ones: Also in accordance with horticultural terminology, poor soil is that which has few free nutrients (usually sandy or gravelly and with little organic material), while rich soil has lots of free nutrients (this usually means at least some clay and organic matter). Please note ‘poor’ is not the same as ‘lousy’: the heavy clay you can’t grow anything in is not poor in terms of nutrients!

A few words on pH: most perennials seem to prefer a slightly acidic soil. Having said that, I am growing acid-lovers and some plants preferring alkaline (basic) soil, and I’m not doing anything to modify the pH for any of them (fact is I don’t know what the pH of my soil is!). Admittedly they are not as showy as in some other gardens, but they are surely adequate and surviving. Then again, I’ve never limed my lawns, so the run-off from that hasn’t been affecting the perennial beds either. Conclusion? I’m not recommending anything in particular other than to avoid leaping to extremes.

Peat: In the catalogue you will find some plants prefer Peaty or largely organic soil: by this I means a lot of compost and semi-decomposed organic material should be mixed into the soil. Not necessarily peat moss (in fact I recommend against it), more the woody sort of peat you find in the upper layers of an established woods.

Ground Covers & Mass Planting: I use the term “mass planting” when a clump-forming plant can be used for what is essentially a ground cover, but will not fill in quickly without a lot of human help. The “Ground Cover” plants spread rapidly of their own accord. A fine distinction, and I’m not sure if anyone else makes the differentiation.



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