Friday 29th january 2021

Hello Hellebore

The last Friday Group zoom meeting of January 2021. Days get longer, light gets morer, grammar gets worserer. This week involved thinking about the life cycles of plants and the importance of Latin in the 21st century. Stay tuned.

Celebrating the benefits that come with being outdoors and in nature, we began with Wendle Berry’s poem, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’. It ends with the words – ‘For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’

Then a quiz. Death or Dinner? You get the picture. The killers are in bold

Borago officinalis

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Aconitum napellus

Musa cavendishii

Ipomoea batatas

Ricinus communis

Cynara scolymus

Tropaeolum majus

Citrus limonum

Nicotiana sp.

Diospyros kaki

Pisum sativum

Daucus carota

Solanum tuberosum

Plant ident

All these plants can form part of the backbone of a garden, but not necessarily a menu. Good, all-year performers, they are evergreen, evergrey and eversouseful.

Helichrysum italicum

The Curry Plant. Its scent isn’t to everyone’s liking, but its pretty, delicate form goes so well with a wide variety of plantings, and adds a silvery focal point of interest. It’s a sub-shrub, meaning that it has a woody base and soft top growth, so, when pruning, (March is a good time), it’s essential not to cut back into the old wood, as it will not re-grow from there. Trim back and shape to about 5 – 8 cms above the woody base. If the outer leaves are cut a little lower than the centre ones, the plant will take on a soft domed shape. Very designery. Easy from cuttings and best in a dry garden setting. Lovely now in pots, with Snowdrops and Cyclamen.

Pittosporum tobira

Such a great doer. Beautiful and utilitarian. A compact, evergreen shrub with deep green, glossy, paddle-shaped leaves which are matt on the underside. Small white flowers appear in May, fragrant with the scent of orange blossom honey, followed by woody fruits which split to reveal red seeds. Grows in most soils and likes full sun or dappled shade. Can grow quite large (to 4 metres) but can be clipped hard back. Or buy a dwarf version ‘Nana’ – for a pot or in the border. Rated highly at Garden House.

Teucrium fruticans

A species of flowering plant in the mint family – Lamiaceae – the Tree Germander has the square stems typical of its relations. Long white stems contrast with dark green leaves and with its beautiful, lilac-blue summer flowers. Lax in habit, it responds well to being cut hard back (in March). Loves a Mediterranean-type garden setting – full sun, sheltered and happiest in well-drained neutral to alkaline soil. Good news for those who garden on chalk and those also lax in habit.

x Fatshedera lizei

Unkindly known as Fat-Headed Lizzie, or more kindly, as Tree Ivy, this is botanically unusual because it’s a bi-generic hybrid. Not common. It’s a cross between two genera: Ivy (Hedera helix) – a climber, and Fatsia – a shrub. Awkward. How does it cope? How does it grow? Answer: very well indeed.

Climbs away happily, with support and tying in, looking good and rather exotic all year round. Its glossy, green leaves (and the spherical white flowers) are smaller than those of a Fatsia, but larger than an Ivy, and are at their best when the plant is in semi-shade. Training and clipping will result in smaller leaves and a denser plant – as recommended by Architectural Plants. Can also be grown as a houseplant.

Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata Aureomarginata’

The Irish Yew. Highly toxic. Botanically-speaking, it’s a mouthful, but a real beauty when planted. Columnar in shape, with deep green needle-shaped leaves typical of Yew, these have the additional attraction of golden margins. The clue’s in the name. Often used for topiary, as Yew is tough and responds well to cutting, becoming denser the more it is cut. Plant in any well-drained soil, though chalk, sand and loamy soils are best. Ideal as pillars planted either side of a doorway entrance or pathway; they have such great presence and structure. Can be grown from cuttings.

The Academic Bit

So, what’s with botanical names and all this dead language stuff?

It may be worth searching for this sort of book….

It will provide you with all sorts of fascinating information

Using Latin to give plants botanical names is essential to gardeners and botanists the world over, as it provides a unique identification for each and every plant, which is internationally recognised. As Latin is a dead language, it will never vary or change. (Although the names of the plants sometimes do if they are reclassified!)The use of Latin can give an insightful description of the plant itself as well as indicate relationships and common features between plants.

Botanical names place plants in botanical groups

The ‘International Code of Botanical Nomenclature’ is based on a binomial (two-name) system first developed by the botanist Linnaeus in the mid-eighteenth century. Each plant is given a first and last name unique to each species.

In the Papaveraceae family, there are many different forms of Poppy, from annuals and biennials through to perennials. E.g. Papaver nudicaule; Papaver orientale; Papaver somniferum ”Black Peony’; Glaucum flavum; Eschscholzia californica; Meconopsis baileyi. By giving each plant its proper botanical name, rather than the far too general term ‘Poppy’, it can be quickly, easily and specifically identified.


A group of botanically related plants, having many features in common. It equates to a surname, and is the name by which a plant is most familiar. For example – Papaver (Poppy); Aquilegia (Columbine); Ilex (Holly). The name is always written with a capital letter followed by lower case.


A group of botanically related plants within a genus that can hybridise (cross-breed) to produce fertile offspring. The species name often describes the plant’s colour, origin, leaf shape or maybe the place where it was found, or even the person who found it. For example – aurea; sinensis; palmatum; wilsonii. The species name is always written in lower case.


A cultivated variety of a plant. It’s one that has been bred and do not occur naturally in the wild. The name is given after the Genus and Species names and gives more information. It may be a name indicating the breeder, or perhaps one dedicating the new plant to a specific person. It’s not Latinised, but is written with a capital letter and put in single quotation marks. E.g. – ‘King Edward’; ‘Alan Titchmarsh’; ‘Black Peony’


A naturally occurring variation in a plant species, often found by chance in the wild. Variation may occur due to geographical isolation, resulting in the development of new and unique traits. The variety name is written in lower case with no quotation marks. For example – the Japanese ornamental cherry Prunus nipponica var. kurilensis is a variety from the Kuril Islands, north of Japan.


At this point we all felt the need to immerse ourselves in botanicals

Now conversant in Latin, we can move on to learning insulting phrases. So useful in the current circumstances. Should someone get a little too close at the garden centre, just yell,

“Utinam barbari spatium proprium tuum invadant!”

(Translation: ‘May barbarians invade your personal space.’)

Here Beginneth the Second Lesson

Life Cycles of Plants

Mostly concentrating on hardy and half-hardy annuals.

Annuals are plants which complete their life cycle in one growing season. This means they germinate, grow, flower, set seed and die within that period. Most annuals need to be replanted each year. They split into two groups:

Hardy annuals

Lathyrus (Sweet Peas), Tagetes (Marigolds), Helianthus (Sunflowers), Centaurea cyanus (Cornflowers) and Cerinthe are examples. They can cope with year- round climatic conditions, including frost, and will often return year after year if the seed heads remain and they are allowed to self-sow.

Half-hardy annuals

E.g. Nicotiana sylvestris; Cosmos; Cobaea scandens (the Cup and Saucer plant). These have to be sown indoors and placed under cover; they need heat to germinate. Frost is a killer for them, so they need protection until all danger of frost has passed before they can be planted out. Garden House operates on the tried and trusted 15th May system. Some half-hardies require a long period of growth and should be sown around now – Antirrhinums and Cobaea scandens are two. Otherwise, hold off until the days are longer, or you will be swamped by seedlings. 14th February is a good date to work by.

End of Academic Session

Us, but without Zoom and Social Distancing Regs. in force

Jobs for the week

Enjoy the plants in your garden. Bring some indoors!

Order more seeds

Drool over seed catalogues. Plan your seed sowing – what, where, how. Empty that piggy bank. Order seeds. Gloat over them.


Strawberry runners can be planted up into pots. To guarantee a long period of enjoyment, get early, mid and late season strawbs. Investigate where the best cream can be obtained from. You can’t actually start that too soon.

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