Name That Garden

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

We all know the “right” way to choose plants for our gardens: figure out how much sun and shade we have, how fertile the soil is, what the drainage is like, what hardiness zone we’re in, which flower and foliage traits we want, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s all excellent advice, of course, but I know I’m not the only one who quite often ignores all that and chooses plants purely on impulse. Sometimes it’s just because of a really cool flower, or terrific leaf variegation. And sometimes, I buy a plant just because of its name.

In some cases, botanical names can be annoying to use, but in others, it’s actually fun to say them, as in Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ (golden fullmoon maple)…

Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'

…or marvelous Mukdenia.

Mukdenia rossii

I’m also a sucker for silly common names, and you can’t get much sillier than kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (shown here is the variegated version, Persicaria orientalis ‘Shiro-gane Nishiki’)…

Persicaria orientalis ‘Shiro-gane Nishiki’

…or bats-in-the-belfry (this is the white form, Campanula trachelium var. alba).

Campanula trachelium var. alba

I enjoy names so much that I’ve long been tempted to create whole theme plantings based on them. When my dear Shetland Sheepdog Guinevere died a few years ago, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate memorial than a paperbark – emphasis on the bark – maple (Acer griseum). But I haven’t yet given up on the idea of planting a whole dog-gone garden for her: you know, dogwoods (Cornus), ‘Phlox of Sheep’ phlox (Phlox drummondii), dogtooth violets (Erythronium), dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium), and, of course, the English rose ‘Guinevere’.

Rosa 'Guinevere' with Symphytum x uplandicum 'Axminster Gold'

On a happier note, it could be fun to put together an entire animal-theme garden, with all of the plants named after wild and/or domesticated animals. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any plants with “alpaca” or even “llama” in the name, but there are countless other options. As a start, you could check out this list at the Glasshouse Works site: Plants with Zoo Animal Names. How about a kitty garden, or a bird garden? Gee, maybe I should consider a rabbit-themed garden to go with all of my bunny ornaments. Or ooh, a horse-theme garden would be so simple, starting with pony-tail grass (Stipa tenuissima).

Stipa tenuissima with Persicaria polymorpha and Salix alba var. sericea

Or how about a family garden, with mother-of-thyme (Thymus serpyllum), ‘Dad’s Favorite’ dianthus, seven-sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides)…

Heptacodium miconioides

…and plants that include the names of individual family members. While I don’t have an entire family-theme planting here at Hayefield, my garden does include ‘Nona’s Garnet’ daylily (Hemerocallis), in memory of my much-missed Aunt Nona.

Hemerocallis 'Nona's Garnet Spider'

How about plants with music-related names? I’ve long enjoyed Metallica as a band and ‘Metallica’ as an ajuga. (Hey, ajuga’s also known as bugleweed, so that counts twice for a music garden.) And then there’s ‘Heavy Metal’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum), shown here in its winter form.

Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal' in winter

‘Jethro Tull’ coreopsis (with fluted petals, of course)…

Coreopsis 'Jethro Tull'

…and ‘The Beatles’ sedge (Carex), perhaps paired with ‘Strawberry Fields’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena)?

Gomphrena 'Strawberry Fields'

As a Harry Potter fan (up to the epilogue, anyway), I’d also love to have a HP-themed garden. Jim at Art of Gardening and his daughter beat me to it (check out their take on the theme), but I do have one appropriate plant that I don’t think they have yet: Serious Black clematis (Clematis recta ‘Lime Close’).

Clematis recta Serious Black ('Lime Close')

Ok, so it should be Sirius, not Serious, but it sounds good. There’d also have to be lupins, of course, and ‘Remus’ lettuce, and ‘Lord Voldemort’ coleus, and at least one venomous tentacula. (Oh, wait, they aren’t real? Well, they should be.) Maybe an Arthurian garden instead? There are lots of options in the Round Table series of delphiniums. ‘Guinevere’ rose would work here too, and ‘Merlin’ beets. There are loads of “dragon” names, such as ‘Flying Dragon’ hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata)…

Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon'

… and ‘Red Dragon’ geum.

Geum 'Red Dragon'

There are also a number of plants with the name ‘Excalibur’, including a lungwort (Pulmonaria), an echeveria, and this euphorbia.

Euphorbia 'Excalibur'

I’m not a sports fan, but it seems like it would be pretty easy to put together a collection of plants related to one’s favorite sport or sports team. Or, if you’re fond of sweet treats (and who isn’t?), a dessert garden would be a snap to plan. Anyone who’s been growing heucheras over the last few years knows of the super-abundance of food-related cultivar names there, such as ‘Tiramisu’, ‘Key Lime Pie’, ‘Crème Brulee’, and ‘Caramel’.

Heuchera 'Caramel' with Verbena 'Superbena Burgundy'

There are lots of names related to chocolate, of course, such as ‘Milk Chocolate’ daylily (Hemerocallis)…

Hemerocallis 'Milk Chocolate'

… ‘Chocolate Splash’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)…

Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Chocolate Splash'

… ‘Chocolate Ball’ sedum…

Sedum 'Chocolate Ball'

…and ‘Chocolate Smoke’ flowering tobacco (Nicotiana).

Nicotiana 'Chocolate Smoke'

There are all kinds of berry-related names, too, such as blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis)…

Belamcanda chinensis seeds

…and ‘Berry Basket Mix’ zinnias.

Zinnia 'Berry Basket Mix'

Several months ago, Benjamin at The Deep Middle put up a post called Echinacea ‘Virgin’ PPAF Has Lost Its Virginity, which got me pondering the many possibilities for a Naughty Garden. You’d need ‘Black Negligee’ bugbane (Actaea), of course, as well as ‘Fishnet Stockings’ coleus. And who could resist indulging in a little exotic love (Mina lobata)?

Mina lobata

Apparently I’m not the only one whose mind has gone off the deep end with this line of thinking. I notice that Gomphocarpus physocarpus, which used to go by the perfectly nice common name of swan plant, is now being marketed rather differently.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus

No, I’m not even going to dignify the name here; if you really want to know, here’s the link to the listing in the Thompson & Morgan catalog. I’ll finish up by pointing out that a “name garden” is a very personal endeavor: Unless you label everything clearly, and you’re prepared to explain the theme to visitors, you’re probably the only one that will truly appreciate the meaning behind your plant choices. But hey, it’s your garden, so who cares if no one else understands it?

11 responses to this post.

  1. Wow, this is officially my favorite blog of the day!
    I would love to have a ‘pet’ garden….anything with dogs, cats and fish (all of which we have)….I bet there would be a colorful display of flowers and foliage. HMMM…I may need to rethink my current garden……

    Hi there, Laurie. I love the idea of a pet garden; plenty of possibilities for great plant names!
    -Nan

  2. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on July 9, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Nan I am guilty of bringing home a plant that has the name of a family member and I have several daylilies that have the names of birds. Actually I have purchased several different plants because they have bird names. I bought the lime rickey heuchera because I went to Boston with a friend to see the tall ships a few years ago and had my first Lime Rickey while there. When our dear dog died several years ago we received two dogwood trees to plant in his honor. So the list could go on…

    Yes, you’ve definitely got the idea, Lisa. With so many thousands of cultivars to choose from, daylilies definitely offer ample opportunities for all kinds of name themes. Hostas would be great too!
    -Nan

  3. Posted by Sylvia (England) on July 10, 2008 at 4:59 am

    Nan, you impulse buy plants too! I am glad I am in such good company. I am not organised enough to have a themed garden, there is always that plant I must have, to put somewhere! But I have been known to put two or three plants together within a theme.

    Very enjoyable post, thank you. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    Thanks, Sylvia. I think pretty much every gardener buys on impulse at least occasionally, don’t you? I’m with you: Most of my favorite “name” plants are scattered throughout my garden. But maybe someday I will get organized enough for one whole bed or border with a name theme.
    -Nan

  4. I just planted a ‘Black Stockings’ meadow rue–does that count for a naughty garden?

    Oh, that’s a new one to me, Benjamin. Sure it counts!
    -Nan

  5. Hi Nan, this is brilliant. You have a creative streak a mile wide, finding themes of names and topics that are pretty deeply buried. Like you say, few would get it if it was not explained, but I see that as a plus, your little secret, dirty or clean.

    Right, Frances – it gives a whole new meaning to the term “secret garden.”
    -Nan

  6. You sure know your names Nan! There are tons of possibilities and since names are usually kind of descriptive you might end up with something that looks pretty good. Surely you could have gone more musical than Metallica though!

    Hey, now, don’t be casting aspersions on my musical tastes, Dave. Would you prefer a classic rock theme – maybe ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Jacob’s ladder or ‘Tequila Sunrise’ coreopsis? Show tunes? Jazz? So many possibilities….
    -Nan

  7. Another easy theme could be a SciFi garden, with all those Star Trek Hostas, the Jedi Daylilies & various other things including Clematis ‘Sputnik.’ Or an alcohol theme: Mint Julip, Creme de Menthe, Lime Rickey. Too fun.

    The sci-fi idea is brilliant! There are many, many more ideas in this thread of GardenWeb: Perennials with SciFi Names. And while I’m not as fond of the alcohol idea, you’re right that there are plenty of plants with names that related to cocktails and wines.
    -Nan

  8. I’ve always wanted to put my Forget-me-nots under my Gingko biloba in a “memory garden.” But I figured it was a gardener’s lame insider joke. And here you are – all proud of lame name insider gardener jokes! I totally appreciate lame name jokes. I bought an “Inky Fingers” coleus for a friend that’s a printer!

    Oh, Jim, I think it’s pretty clear that I’m not the only one who loves lame name insider gardening jokes. I heartily approve of your Memory Garden idea. But don’t forget to add a ‘Remember Me’ hosta!
    -Nan

  9. Hello Nan!
    The name have some meaning when we by plants to, for example we by a Phlox who hade the name Danielle like our doughter.
    And we do have gardenrooms with the names of Mr-garden and Mrs-garden.
    Beautiful pictures of beautiful plants, as always.

    Ken

    Hi Ken! I love the idea of a Mr-garden and Mrs-garden. Thanks for stopping by.
    -Nan

  10. I tried to buy a daylily for every member of my family. That fell apart when I couldn’t find one for one of my daughters and didn’t think it was fair that one girl was represented and the other wasn’t. I love theme gardens though.
    (P.S. I often buy plants on impulse and don’t worry about whether I have the right conditions. I figure it out when I get home)

    Hi there, Jane Marie! If you want to tell us the names you’re looking for, maybe I or another reader can help you find plants to represent both girls.
    -Nan

  11. Posted by ourfriendben on July 14, 2008 at 7:27 am

    Ha!!! Too classic, Nan! I’ve always wanted a rock’n’roll garden here at Hawk’s Haven, with, of course, ‘Heavy Metal’, ‘Jethro Tull’, and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as (rock) stars. Didn’t know there was a ‘Metallica’ ajuga, but I’ll add it to the list. That ‘Serious Black’ clematis is just amazing! I want one!!! And, of course, I love the idea of a ‘Lord Voldemort’ coleus. There should be a ‘Weaselly’ (er, sp.?) hosta with twisted leaves, too…

    Yes, that clematis really is exceptional for foliage; you’d really like it. I wonder if I can get a piece off of it for you; I’ll have a look.
    -Nan

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