Great Gardening: Expand Your Planting and Landscaping Vocabulary | Lifestyles: Food, Home, Health

If you are not a serious gardener and you visit a garden or take a walk or a visit to the garden, you will certainly hear words and phrases that you may not understand. It can help you know what plant geeks are talking about. Here are a few:

Aisle (pronounced al-lay, stress on the second syllable): A path between two rows of uniform trees or tall shrubs. Depending on location and dimension, a driveway may be flanked by lime trees, hornbeams, sycamores, crape myrtles, Italian cypresses, or whatever suits the site.

Bonsai (pronounced bone sigh): Derived from the Japanese art of pruning and shaping trees or shrubs, the plants are kept miniaturized, growing in pots often for hundreds of years.

Border: Often used to describe a strip of ornamental plants bordering a fence, sidewalk or the edge of the yard. But a border can be any long planting anywhere, sometimes placed to designate garden areas or “garden rooms”.

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Compost: The almost magical material made from decomposing organic materials, such as leaves, grass, manure, shredded paper, and food scraps. It adds texture, drainage and life to the soil. Good compost contains billions of living organisms that process organic matter and provide nutrients in a form that plants can use. Compost can be used in the ground or on the garden.

Espalier: Whether you see one in a large public garden or Jim Charlier’s Lancaster Avenue garden in Buffalo, the practice of espaliering is the same: a small tree (usually a fruit tree or vine) is planted near of a wall or trellis. As it grows, the branches are cut so that none extend outwards and the plant grows flat, attached to supports, along the wall.

Garden: A basic word that confuses people. A domain garden is the entire property of several hundred acres. In England, the garden is the whole yard. We often refer to small private gardens – like in Buffalo – as the whole space as well. In America, some people use the word only for a specific vegetable patch, flower garden, or flower beds.

Green walls (also called living walls): vertical structures covered with plants that grow in a planting medium and usually have irrigation systems. In Buffalo, a green wall can be seen in the lobby at 250 Delaware Ave., designed by Botanicus Inc. The largest green wall in the United States is in Longwood Gardens, south of Philadelphia.

Hardiness zones: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains a hardiness zone map to help people know which plants can grow in a certain region. (Some other hardiness zone maps also exist.) The map is based on the lowest probable winter temperature (which is not the only factor affecting plant survival, but it is an important one). For many decades, most of western New York was considered hardiness zone 5, which means winter temperatures sometimes drop to minus 10 degrees, or sometimes to minus 20 degrees. Several recent decades have shown slightly milder winter patterns, so the map has been revised, labeling part of WNY as zone 6A or 6B. If someone asks you “What is your zone?” “, do not panic. Just say “mainly zone 5” to be sure.

Latin names: Not meant to intimidate you or aggrandize the speaker, the (usually) Latin name is the only way to ensure you’re talking about the same plant – in any country or local business. The name identifies the plant genus, species, and sometimes variety (which occurred naturally) or cultivar (bred and propagated by humans).

Mulch: Often confused with compost, mulch is a material used on the ground to block weeds, retain soil moisture, or decorate and outline landscaped beds. Popular garden and landscape mulches are shredded bark, wood chips, cocoa husks, straw, or chopped leaves. A living mulch, green mulch or cover crop is a planted soil covering (buckwheat, rye, clover) that blocks weeds and adds organic matter to the soil when turned over. Many gardeners also use paper or cardboard to cover the soil and block weeds.

Shrub: Woody plant with several stems, either evergreen or deciduous. A shrub can be small or 15 feet tall. Horticulturists prefer the word “shrubs” rather than “bushes”.

Gardeners or not, it’s always good to listen to how others talk about their passions and to enrich our vocabulary.

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, speaker and consultant.

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