Plant Name Amnesia: First Meeting With The Garden Designer

I thought it was just me that suffered a bit from post-winter plant name amnesia (PWPNA, for those who like acronyms).

After the long winter, the names of plants that last fall came easily to mind and rolled off the tongue now seem to be stuck in a haze, the words a bit blurry, the accents all mixed up. Even common names take a minute or two to bring to mind.

I knew I should have studied up on my plant names before the garden designer and her partner in digging came for a first look-see of my garden! We toured around, pointing at bare stems of shrubs and tiny little plants just emerging from the ground, stumbling over names.

Snow-in-summer? Ceras? Oh, yes, Cerastium tomentosum, pictured above. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue after the long winter.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’? I tried to call it “tardita”. Without the paniculata. And I could barely remember that the ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas were ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas. But yes, of course, I knew they were hydrangas.

But if someone said something close to the actual name, someone else figured out what it was and so we managed. Around the garden we went, stumbling through the names, as I pointed out flaws, areas that I thought needed to be fixed, a tree that should be cut down, utility boxes to hide. I consider my garden pretty much a blank slate as long as she…

Leaves the vegetable garden alone.

And actually, I hope she has suggestions for the vegetable garden. It could  use some help, too. And a nicer “entry way” into it, maybe an arbor. Or perhaps a low fence that divides it from the rest of the yard.  Maybe better paths?

After walking around the garden, we sat and talked about what I want in the garden in addition to wanderability, placeness, well plotted, gardimacy, and hortiful. (Yes, she read about those on my blog, but came anyway.)  I did forget to mention my five keys to achieving happiness in a garden. (Grow the plants you love, size your garden for the resources you have, buy good tools (I did show them my hoe collection), respect Mother Nature and, share your garden.) I hope she can take all that into account, too.

She noted a lack of evergreen shrubs in my garden and asked me about that. I said evergreens would be fine, but no Juniperus (junipers), Taxus (yews), Thuja (arborvitaes) or Chamaecyparis. She kindly and patiently pointed out that there were really no other choices for evergreens around here, so I agreed to re-consider sculptural junipers, new varieties of yews, and Chamaecyparis, and really anything else she suggests.

We also talked about my lack of grasses. I’ve had some bad experiences with invasive grasses, which I didn’t mention to them. I’ll work through those issues with Dr. Hortfreud on my own time. I’m sure after a few sessions I’ll soon be able to consider some nice grasses that aren’t invasive.

Whew, this garden design process is going to be like therapy, as she challenges me to let go of some of my pre-conceived and perhaps strongly held opinions on some plants and reconsider them, after all these years. Before you know it, she’ll have me liking and planting red flowers. Red flowers!

The next step is for her to come back and spend some more time walking around the garden, mulling it over, considering what concepts she wants to present in a garden design before she gets too far.

In the meantime, I’m going to pull out my plant tags, walk around the garden, and shake off my post-winter plant name amnesia!


  1. I think you have to be a designer (or British) to like "Juniperus (junipers), Taxus (yews), Thuja (arborvitaes) or Chamaecyparis".

    Lately however I have relaxed my antipathy toward the tall, spiral-cut junipers. Vertical interest is good. And I do like the whimsical.

  2. And I thought of another reason you should like grasses: birds build nests with grasses. I remember once there was a discussion about why you should like grasses. You seemed to leave completely unconvinced.

  3. What an adventure this will be. I agree that sometimes we need to get our pre-conceptions shaken up a bit, but I'd also think that a garden is a pretty personal thing, so she can influence & shape it, but in the end you need to love it, so the final choices should be yours.

  4. This is so exciting Carol! I know you're going to have so much fun thinking about possibilities. But I'll believe the red flowers when I see them...

  5. The name-slippage is so true, Carol- not just horticultural names but nouns in general... sometimes it takes three women to finish one sentence.

    I hope the designer returns in spite of your dislike of evergreens & grasses and waving the "paws off my vegetable garden" flag. It will be very interesting to see what she comes up with!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  6. I always have that problem when talking to someone about plants in the garden. I know what I have planted but it won't come to me when someone asks. It is very frustrating to me and sometimes embarrassing. I don't take tests very well either.

  7. Dear Carol, You really do seem to have made a good start with your designer and I do hope that all will work out as you wish. I shall be most interested to hear of the next step and her ideas.

    I am sorry that you do not care for Taxus baccata. Clipped, I believe it to be the very best of all hedges - certainly much prized in Great Britain.

  8. Love the problem with plant name amnesia, Carol. Happens to the best of us. I'm so with you on Taxus, and just had a gentle tantrum explaining why I dislike it (and I hate anything clipped). Love chamaecyparis, however, because they come in such a delightful variety of forms, shapes, heights, colours...and I've had great luck with the clump forming grasses. I'm sure you're going to have great fun with all this.

  9. I'm about to throw in the towel on plant names. They keep changing. My garden tags are outdated after a single year. Guess I have an old fashioned landscape now.

  10. You definitely need a few grasses! Foerster Feather Reed grass comes to mind as one you probably would enjoy. It doesn't spread or become invasive here. Do 'Schip' Laurel or 'Otto Luyken' laurel grow well in you area?

  11. Same problem with names slipping away, too, Carol...It happened after turning 50 for me. Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl' is an attractive might like it. gail

  12. I was never good at remembering the latin names of plants. And, being a transplanted Brit, I actually like junipers, yew and arborvitae:-)

    How exciting to have a designer work with you in your garden. I'm just muddling through on my own for now.

  13. Such an exciting time in your garden right now. Wish I were there to share it with you. I forget names too, and then, stuff comes up that I think, what's that?~~Dee

  14. Botanical names evade me these days, but I seem to remeber random names like corylus avellana contorta, which I'd rather grow than yew or juniper. I'm not fond of those crazy creeping evergreens and grasses baffle me.

    What an adventure in gardening, Carol. I too look forward to hearing more about the changes in your garden.

  15. Give Thujas a chance! There are some cool variegated ones, some cute little bun types, and some great fastigate ones.

  16. And the hoe collection didn't scare her off? She's good. I have a selective plant amnesia. I can never remember the name of a few plants in particular - honeysuckle is one of them - every time I just go blank. I have to associate the plant with something else, like a bear likes honey (suckle). So now when I see honey suckle, I think of a bear, which eventually gets me to remember the name. Hey, it works.

  17. Carol I totally understand. This seems to be a constant problem of mine.

    It so happens in my case that most of the plants that I happen to like I can't pronounce!

    If I was working with a designer I would have to use some sort of Plant flash cards and just point them out to him/her... LoL"

  18. I seem to forget the names of lots of things these days, not just plants. I won't even mention what that's a sign of, Carol:) However, I like to think that it means my brain could use some extra memory chips because it's already full of so much:)

    Looking forward to seeing what the designer has in mind for you!


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