The 10 best garden plant...names
I’m a real sucker for a list. And in the gardening world there are many: top 20 plants for shade, 10 best roses, 25 easy houseplants...you name it, there’s a list somewhere for it, usually peddled by the gardening lifestyle magazines.
Apparently lists give us a semblance of control in an uncertain world. This is why we can’t resist them, they make us feel good.
As there are many possible plant choices for a garden, I thought it’s about time I came up with my own definitive plants list. And so, putting aside planting style, function, and even garden aspects...etc, here are the plants I love the sound of, as well as their excellent horticultural features, a must for any garden. All this is in alphabetical order, of course.
1. Angelica archangelica - surely the creation of angels. This biennal plant can reach dizzy heights of 2 m or more in its second year and put its big rounded flower heads out there for a lot of insects. This plant makes a statement, like putting a banner up in the garden saying ‘All Pollinators Welcome’. As a topical aside, I recently found out that the 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper recommended Angelica against 'all epidemical diseases'.
2. Dandelion, which to me sounds like ‘Dandy Lion’ and conjures up images of a big cat with a cravat. It is actually a contraction of the French words 'dent de lion' (Lion's tooth), named this way because its leaves have sharp, pointed lobes resembling lion's teeth. Having them in your garden, sneaking in your borders or splashing out on the lawn, is a proof that you have now moved on to a stage in your life where battling weeds (wild flowers, really) is no longer needed to feel good about yourself. Furthermore, the dandelion seedheads are incredible, made up of another great horticultural term: pappus, which can float on the wind. Respect.
3. Forget me not (Myosotis sylvatica) - the main legend for the name seems to be about a German knight falling into a river due to the weight of his armour and shouting to his lady ‘vergessen Sie mich nicht’ whilst also giving her a bunch of Myosotis (also called Vergissmeinnicht in German). They herald the start of Spring. Their blue frothiness delights me, and so does the fact that they spread everywhere. Do not worry about prolific self seeders, enjoy their way of surprising you in your own garden.
4. Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus). Keeping to the middle ages, this plant name is also about knights in shining armours, as it is a marker of ancient woodland. I love its simple flowers (a bit like hydrangeas’, more about them at no 9), it is also a great supply of berries for birds. Although it can become quite a big shrub, it can be pruned back each year to control its size. Check out more information about the Guelder Rose on the Woodland Trust website.
5. Honeysuckle. I like both the English and French name of this climber, known as Chévrefeuille, translate as ‘goat leaf’, possibly named that way because it has the climbing skill of goats. There are many varieties available these days, but I would still stick to the common woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum, a native plant to Britain, giving beautiful sweet fragrance, and exotic looking flowers.
6. ‘Knobby Russet’ , What a great name! making me think of pigeon racing, warm beer and flat caps. This is of course a variety of apple tree. Anybody with a bit of outdoor space should grow something edible, whether one strawberry plan, fruit trees or...and I refer you back to exhibit No 2, Dandelion, which is also an edible.
Fruit trees have the added value of beautiful flower display in the Spring. Russet varieties of apple do give out particularly nice blossoms. Many have good disease resistance.
7. Love in the mist (Nigella damascena). This was a close call with Bleeding heart, but as an eternal optimist, I had to go for the promise of love rather than heartache. This annual plant is a good cut flower, with quirky seed pods in Autumn.
8. Sarcococca confusa - the latin name of the Sweetbox or Winterbox as it’s also known, is pure alliteration work. This slow growing evergreen shrub provides amazingly sweet scented flowers in the Winter. Visit the Whitworth Art Gallery Alex Bernstein garden for the full olfactive experience. It is tolerant of shade and also dry conditions once established.
9 Schizophragma ‘Shiro Fuka Fukurin Fu’, to be pronounced carefully. This is a climbing plant, in the family of the hydrangea, with similar delicate flowers. In fairness, i prefer Hydrangea anomala petiolaris, i.e. climbing hydrangea, to the Schizophragma but the name wasn’t quite cutting it. The key feature of these climbers is that they are self-clingers and I like that independent spirit which doesn’t require any support to ascend. They are also shade tolerant, with another favourite, Pilostegia viburnoides (also from the hydrangea family) being a must for any north facing wall or fence.
10 Whitebeam (Sorbus Aria) - I like the simplicity and beauty of this tree and its name. In the Spring, its leaves shimmer magically in the wind, as their underside is covered in white hair. Its trunk can also sometime twist as it grows, proving to me that this is the tree of goblins and fairies. Its fairly compact shape makes it a good choice for medium sized gardens, adding further interest in the Autumn with bright red berries and yellow foliage.
So here it is, my definitive list...til I come across some other beautiful plant names.