Gardener’s vocabulary can be quizzical

All of my columns spring in some way from an idea that spends time growing from the first notion until it is developed enough to be set down. This one started with an article I read in a magazine while I was in England last September. It concerned “procumbent” roses.

I had never heard that adjective before, but rather admired it. It seemed like an amalgam of prone and recumbent, suggesting a plant that spent its life on the ground, and when I did finally check the dictionary, there it was – not an invention of the author, but a real word.

The gardener, or at least this one, comes across a lot of unfamiliar words in books and magazines, and I have been jotting down some of them in my invaluable notebook to explore further. This seems to be the time to list some of them.

Reading an article on pruning, I wondered exactly what basal breaks were and, on looking it up, found they are the stems and canes that grow directly from the bottom of a plant, new canes that allow for annual renewal. That brings to mind the fact pruning is one of those techniques that cannot really be learned from the written word, however accurate the illustrations may be.

One has to have pruners in hand and a mentor looking over your shoulder in order to understand and follow. I learned from Percy Lilly, the best of the best.

A term that refers to a particular type of pruning is espalier. This is a technique that makes a fruit tree grow flat against a wall or along a support that allows growth in a disciplined pattern where all parts of the tree receive sunlight and encourages abundant and early fruiting. The branches are tied in place until the growing pattern is fully achieved.

Xeriscape is a term we see used often during seasons of drought. This is a type of garden that uses different techniques and plant types to minimize the use of water as much as possible. To xeriscape successfully, a great deal of preparation is necessary, including soil improvement and mulching, along with proper irrigation and maintenance.

Articles about house plants often mention gesneriads, and this is simply the term for African violets, streptocarpus and other similar plants.

Articles about grouping plants in a container often use terms referring to the color wheel. Analogous colors are those that fall next to one another, such as blue, blue-purple and purple, while complementary colors are directly opposite one another, such as purple and yellow.

Growing a crop of green manure is a technique often used by organic gardeners over the winter. This is a fine way to condition the soil by sowing a crop such as alfafa, clover, barley, buckwheat or field peas in the fall, and letting the plants mature. The roots penetrating the soil and then decaying leave a store of organic material, which breaks down into humus.

In the spring, the upper parts of the plants as well as the roots are turned under and the decomposing material is valuable to soil enrichment.

There sometimes is confusion between parasites and epiphytes.

An epiphyte is a plant, such as an orchid in the wild, that will perch on another structure, often with the aim of reaching sunlight. It does not penetrate the host plant in any way, but simply uses the structure.

A parasite plant, on the other hand, attaches itself to the host and steals food. Mistletoe will latch onto a tree and drain nutrients from the sap for its nourishment. Major parasitic invasions eventually can kill the victim plant.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, there are some terms that have me stumped. For example, micorhyzzia. I sat through a lengthy presentation on that subject at a tree event a couple of years ago and was no wiser at the end than I was at the beginning.

Worse, in fact.

I took dutiful notes as I always do, and to this day they are totally incoherent. Something about fungi and root hairs and humus. So if you ever need to know, don’t ask me.

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.

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