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Gardening Jargon: What It Really Means

Updated on October 30, 2014
Part of the garden in my previous house.
Part of the garden in my previous house. | Source

What Do Gardeners Really Mean?

You hear gardeners using jargon like 'vigorous' or 'free seeding' to describe the attributes of plants but do these terms describe desirable or undesirable qualities?

Should you be pleased when you read that the plants you just bought are 'strong growing'? Would you worry if descriptions say 'moisture loving' or 'drought tolerant'?

Stop worrying. I'm going to tell you what these and other gardening terms really mean.

Forget-Me-Not - so pretty, so free seeding...
Forget-Me-Not - so pretty, so free seeding... | Source

Free Seeding - Good or Bad?

Forget-me-nots are so pretty. How can you resist these sweet little blue flowers? If you have them in your garden, you soon find out they are free seeding. This bit of gardening jargon means that the plants are very good at their job. They set seed easily and then spread them far and wide so that you have lots more forget-me-nots next year and the year after and the year after that too. In fact, if you don't do something about them, your garden will be covered in forget-me-nots.

Forget-me-nots aren't the only plants that fall into this category but they are a prime example.

Another great example of a free seeding flower is the poppy. I had these in my garden. Oh my goodness! I spent the whole of the second summer after we moved to that house, racing round the the garden cutting the seed heads off the poppies. I hadn't done it the summer before and the second summer we had poppies everywhere. They are beautiful but I quite like some variety in a garden.

I still like poppies in the garden but I make sure I cut off the majority of seed heads.

Free Seeding Poppies

Poppies complete with seed heads
Poppies complete with seed heads | Source

My definition: Free Seeding

You will spend most of your time trying to cut off seedheads and burn them, the rest of your time will be spent pulling out the seedlings from the ones you missed.

Mint - the Herb

Mint - a lovely herb but it spreads furiously
Mint - a lovely herb but it spreads furiously | Source

Vigorous, Strong Growing, Ground Cover

Although the terms vigorous, strong growing and ground cover are not necessarily synonymous, quite often plants that have these terms in their descriptions could be described as the tough boys and girls of the garden or even the schoolyard bullies.

The picture on the right is the herb mint. Now, if you have ever made the mistake of putting a little sprig of mint in your garden that some neighbour or friend has dug up for you, I expect you are now asking yourself a serious question, "Whatever did I do to upset my friend or neighbour?" Vendettas lasting generations have been started for less than this.

Putting mint in your garden is a seriously stupid or careless thing to do. It's on a par with planting some varieties of bamboo. Both of these plants spread through underground roots. Those little roots spread down and out sideways and, guess what, new plants spring up from them. The roots don't just spread in one direction, they spread all round the plant and all the small plants that grow from them. The roots are fine and easy to pull up at first. Eventually they grow so strong you will spend your whole life trying to dig out all the roots - without success, I might add.

Both mint and some kinds of bamboo qualify as vigorous, strong growing and ground cover. Usually ground cover refers to small plants that spread but, trust me, both mint and bamboo cover the ground as effectively as anything else and will succeed in killing off anything else that tries to grow near them.

My Definitions

Vigorous:The plant will take over the garden, smothering everything, no matter how much you cut it back.

Very Vigorous:Not only will it take over the garden, it will spread throughout the neighbourhood and your neighbours will hate you.


Bamboo growing in France
Bamboo growing in France | Source

More of My Definitions

Good Ground Cover: it smothers everything in the flowerbed, then tries to invade the lawn.

Excellent Ground Cover: it does invade the lawn and it comes up through concrete paths.

Strong Growing - This plant definitely grows through concrete and also grows from the brickwork of your house.

Russian Vine

The Russian Vine - growing it is definitely easy for beginners, getting rid of it is almost impossible
The Russian Vine - growing it is definitely easy for beginners, getting rid of it is almost impossible | Source

Buddleia - Also Called the Butterfly Bush

A flowering buddleia
A flowering buddleia | Source

Easy for Beginners

This sounds so tempting for the novice gardener, doesn't it? It's true that there are many plants that are extremely well behaved, grow well without throwing tantrums or sulks, don't droop or drop their leaves at the slightest excuse and don't make a bid for world domination.

The picture above shows Russian Vine. It is a viciously invasive plant, although of course it's easy for beginners to grow. It should never be planted anywhere, however, unless you are very sure you want such an almost unstoppable plant. Bear in mind it is related to the infamous Japanese knotweed.

The shrub buddleia is easy to grow. It's also vigorous and strong growing. I found a tiny buddleia plant, just 3 inches high, growing out of the mortar between bricks in a wall. I potted it up and it grew into a massive shrub within three years that needed strong pruning annually to prevent it growing far too tall and bushy for its position. It's one of my favourite shrubs, in fact, but it has to be kept under control.

Luckily it is easy for beginners because you can hack away at it with shears or secateurs without it dying if you don't prune according to the book. It's easy to grow because it is extremely difficult to kill, try as you might. It's great for pollinating insects and will attract bees and butterflies to your garden. Its nickname is the butterfly bush.

My definition:

Easy for Beginners: You will need a flamethrower to kill it.

Buddleias Attract Butterflies

Pruning Shears

Fiskars Professional Bypass Pruning Shears
Fiskars Professional Bypass Pruning Shears

High quality pruning shears with adjustable tension settings to suit the strength of your hand.


Prune Those Invasive Shrubs

You are certain to have shrubs with bullying and invasive habits that you like.

They won't be a problem if you keep them under control by pruning them regularly. The best way to do this is with tools made for the job - in other words pruning shears or, in some cases, hedge shears like these shown on the right. Scissors really won't do the job on tough shoots that have been growing and thickening all summer.

One thing to remember is some shrubs are the garden bullies and can seldom be damaged by pruning them even if you do it at the wrong time of year or quite vigorously.

I know this from experience. We cut a lilac tree down so it's trunk measured about 18 inches above the ground and it didn't have a twig or leaf on it. Even so, it still sprouted new shoots and continued to send up shoots some distance from the trunk. Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and decide that the lilac has won the war and will stay in the garden.

Just make sure you don't prune your roses or other more delicate shrubs as if they are garden bullies, though.

Yellow aphids
Yellow aphids | Source

Gardening for Beginners

Gardening Basics For Dummies
Gardening Basics For Dummies

A good book like this one is an ideal way of learning basic gardening. Even if you only want to plant a few flowers to brighten up the outside of your home, doing it right at the correct time of year can make all the difference between success and failure.


Attracts Insects... and a Variety Pests

With the current emphasis on green gardening, you would think that plants that attract insects must be a good. Well, they can be great like the buddleia I mentioned above but it depends on the insects.

There are some insects like aphids that you really don't want to attract and especially if you have plants like lupins or roses that aphids love.

Just as bad are the other creatures that are the thugs of the garden - slugs and snails. They can leave a trail of devastation behind them in quite a short time.

Hostas, for example, will attract every slug and snail for miles so good luck if you decide to grow them. If they are subject to a severe attack, it could kill them completely. Even if they don't die, they won't be beautiful ornamental plants anymore.

My definition

Attracts Insects - every pest within 5 square miles will home in on it and then chomp their way through the rest of your garden.

Gunnera Manicata

The giant Gunnera Manicata which likes a moist position
The giant Gunnera Manicata which likes a moist position | Source

Drought Resistant or Moisture Loving

It should be really easy to give your fussy plants the conditions they like, shouldn't it?

If you know that lavender, for instance, likes to keep its feet dry, you don't put it in your bog garden, do you? Nor do you put your Gunnera Manicata (see picture, right) in a dry, well drained position.

Unfortunately, sometimes the weather doesn't co-operate. That beautifully well-drained spot you chose for your lavender might not be so successful if you have a summer like the rainy ones we sometimes get here in the UK. Under conditions like this, even the best drained soil can become waterlogged and your drought resistant plants might decide to die instead of suffering from wet roots.

Similarly, if the weather is relentlessly hot and dry for weeks, even your bog garden can dry out especially if water restrictions are put in place. If that happens, it's bye bye to your moisture loving plants.

My Definitions

Drought resistant: The plant dies when it rains.

Moisture loving: It dies when it doesn't rain.

How to Make a Bog Garden

Have you been caught out by a description of a plant?

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    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      3 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      FanfrelucheHubs - Some people have green fingers and can get a dead twig to grow, others seem to kill off the hardiest plants just by looking at them. Maybe your mother-in-law can get a job destroying plants that have become a nuisance!

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      3 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      "Easy for Beginners: You will need a flamethrower to kill it.": that should do for my mom in law. I keep giving her very easy to care for indoor plants and she manages to kill them fast. All the time. You know the ones: water once in a while, doesn't matter if it has too much or too little sun etc lol.

      As for her garden it's free seeding +vigorous time ten

    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      3 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Susanna, it sounds like you need to dig the roots out. I'm sure that is something you'll find great fun - not!

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L B 

      3 years ago from Covington, LA

      No, but I love your definitions.... so true. Glad to see you here.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Gardening terms explained simply, I've bookmarked this guide. At the moment I'm having trouble with my wisteria. I've hacked it out 3 years running and this Spring it's running all along my side fence to the annoyance of my neighbours

    • Marina7 profile image


      3 years ago from Clarksville TN

      I do the free seeding every year too because I want to avoid too many plants of certain kinds. Now I learned a new jargon.

    • Paul Ward profile image


      3 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Half-Hardy Annual and its full brother await your touch :)


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