What the Heck is in my Garden?

I was getting out of my car yesterday and my neighbour was outside his house. We chatted and during the conversation he asked me, “What is that lovely flowering tree you have? I’m thinking of getting something like that for our back garden.”

Of course, I couldn’t remember the name of it. “It’s a Viburnum,” I said unhelpfully. “I forget what kind. It’s deciduous.” Gosh! As if that would make up for the fact that I couldn’t remember what it ‘actually’ was. What I should have said was, “Viburnum Plicatum ‘Cascade'” and then taken a bow.

Pet hate time. I get frustrated when I don’t know the names of the plants in my garden. Okay I’ll cut myself some slack here. Some of the plants in my garden I did not plant and so I’m just learning what they are. So it’s okay not to know those. But, most of them I bought! In some cases last week! And I still can’t remember the names of them. Is it just me?

Latin was sent to taunt me. Yes, I know it’s helpfully descriptive but that’s only if you know what it means. Mostly, it looks like a bunch of consonants, to me, expecting a vowel to show up at any minute. The point is, I find plant names difficult so I had to find a way around my difficulty. Because, not knowing what’s in my garden isn’t an option to me.

Here’s my problem – I buy plants. I’m probably not the biggest spender on plants but I do do volume. I don’t just buy plants, I get given plants, I swap plants, I propagate plants. More, more – must have more plants.

Here’s an example of where plants lie on my ‘importance scale.’ A friend of mine last week was shocked when she found out that I use Pantene conditioner. “That stuff is really bad for your hair (who knew?) I’ll give you some of my conditioner to try.” So I did. I’m sure my hair felt more silky-smooth and was definitely ‘bigger’. I went to the shop to buy some. When I next met my friend in the park she asked about the conditioner. “I didn’t buy it.” I confessed. “Do you know how many plants I can buy for that?”

But anyway, the outcome of all this plant activity is, you guessed it, lots of plant names to remember. Precisely the bit that I’m rubbish at.

When I plant a plant, I try to remember the name (then forget it 10 seconds later) but I do keep the tag (or make one) and put it into a pot in the greenhouse. The pot is full of a random, rag-bag of naming devices. Some have pretty pictures on (very helpful), some do not (not so helpful), others are just bands that were wrapped around the main stem, some are stickers from pots (who had that idea?).

With all the tags secured in one place I can rest in the knowledge that the plant name ‘can’ be found. Oh yes, it can be found. Recently, though, my four-year-old has taken to raiding my tag pot and has started using the ones with ‘pretty pictures’ on to decorate his own seedlings. So now we have a pot of French Beans with the tag Helleborus × sternii ‘Silver Dollar’. It’s all very confusing.

My plan, which I have only recently started to put into place, is to wait until I have finished (ha!) planting a bed and then to make a kind of ‘map’ of it using the tags to properly name each plant. You’d be amazed at how you remember something more vividly after you’ve written it seven times!

I say Ha! because we all know that once a bed is planted it doesn’t ever stay that way. Stuff dies, stuff grows too fast, stuff grows too slow, colours clash, blah, blah. Once, I inadvertently planted a bed in the colours of the Union Jack and all the flowers flowered at the same time. It had to go.

So, remembering that ‘things will change’ all my planting maps are written in pencil. If there are too many changes the map will be replaced and there will be version two, three, and four! I’m sure it will be interesting to look back and see what ‘crazy’ combinations I did in the beginning.

I realise this is a ‘long haul’ type of plan. But I’m happy with it. I did toy with the idea of making tags for all my plants in the garden but I gave that up. Who wants to look at a bunch of dangly, metal things glinting at you in the sun? Not me.

How do you remember what’s in your garden? Do you have super-human memory skills? (like my husband) And how do I obtain them? I can pay you in Pantene.

The photo at the top is Euphorbia Blackbird.

large map

An example of my planting maps. Version one of many.


Here’s one of my tag pots, fit to burst.


The metal tags that I had planned to use to remember names. I’ll use them somewhere, right?

13 Comments on “What the Heck is in my Garden?

  1. Ha! I can relate to this so well! I’m terrible at remembering plant names too, and until quite recently (last week, in fact), I had several pots and boxes of 6 years worth of tags hanging around the house and outside on my potting table. Those tags included every annual I’ve ever planted, what was the use of keeping those, I ask myself now? Your tags are a heck of a lot cleaner than mine, and you’re a few steps ahead, making maps. I just recently sorted them into piles depending on what bed they’re in, and then put them into labeled ziploc bags. That’s as organized as I’m willing to get.

  2. Same here…dreadful memory !
    I spent a day punching holes through my tags , just the Cistus, Xera, Joy Creek ones as they are the same size . I put them in alphabetical order and slipped them onto big key rings . Nice and handy .

  3. I totally relate to this problem and still haven’t found a proper way to keep the names in my head, and when it comes to fruit the varieties. However I did discover an amazing app, which is useful not only in your own garden, but when walking round others and finding things you’d like. It’s called “LikeThat: Garden” you basically take a picture of the plant and it identifies it. It’s probably not 100% accurate all the time, but it’s been invaluable for me!

    • I’ve tried that app. It’s good for when you’re out and about and want to know what a plant is.

  4. I can understand your problem, but I’m Dyslexic as well, so can’t even cope with English and was away the day we did Latin !! :)

  5. I’m not a great one for remembering the exact name of the plants in my garden either. But I am really good at buying, swapping and propagating them. I thought about making a plan, but never got around to it. I’d love a Gertrude Jekyll wilderness, but she was probably a meticulous planner. And I bet she knew all her Latin names too.
    I really enjoyed this post!
    Leanne xx

  6. When I buy a plant and put it in the garden I bury the label behind the plant just under the soil. I can then grab it and have a quick glance whenever I want to. Simples…