Every field of human endeavor has a vocabulary of its own. Sometimes, it helps to look into the meaning of words that are unfamiliar in order to understand directions or explanations.
Gardening is no different. Many terms are specific to horticulture or botany, and it is helpful for beginners to know what they mean. A few of these follow, and experienced gardeners may want to skip this column and go directly to the news pages.
Some fairly well known terms apply to the life of a plant.
An annual germinates, grows, blooms, produces seed and dies all within one season. A biennial takes two years to complete its life cycle, starting with foliage in the first year and blooming and setting seed in the second, and a perennial has a longer life, depending on the variety.
A peony is one of the longest-living, sometimes upward of a hundred years.
Hybrid is a term that is often used but little understood.
Hybrid seeds are the result of cross-fertilizing within a species with the objective of gaining more vigorous growth, more uniform fruit, greater disease resistance or some other desirable quality.
A few drawbacks are that a hybrid flower probably will not breed true, in some cases may be sterile, and they tend to be expensive.
There are a group of specialized swollen stems that can be used to propagate a plant, and the ordinary bulb is the best known of these.
In addition, there is a corm, which is a below ground type of stem that looks like a bulb, and produces small off-shoots called cormels. Autumn crocus and gladiolus grow from corms.
Such diverse plants as potatoes, dahlias and caladiums grow from tubers, which have eyes or nodes from which new shoots develop.
And a stolon is an above-ground stem which sends up shoots from each node
Scarification is a long word with a short meaning. It means to scratch.
Some seeds with a hard coat need to be scratched or notched with a sharp knife in order to be able to absorb water for germination.
Other seeds need to be stratified, or exposed to cold temperatures for a period of time before planting in order to break their dormancy. Bleeding heart is an example of this.
Directions on seed packets often suggest full sun, part shade or other conditions for the best growth.
Full sun means at least six hours a day. Full shade means a substantial reduction in light for the entire day. Part shade denotes equal amounts of sunlight and shadow, either afternoon or morning. Light shade offers a few hours of shade during the heat of the day.
A groundcover is any low-growing plant that will spread to cover the ground, look attractive and keep weeds down.
It will require less upkeep than a lawn, can be used in shady spots, will need less water, and once established will flourish with little care. (And if you are not careful it may take over your property.)
Alpines are plants whose native habitat is above the tree line on a mountain. In the garden, they will do well in a trough or rock garden,
needing gravelly, fertile and well-drained soil similar to their native habitat.
They will often have built-in protection such as thick leaves or grey or hairy foliage to enable them to flourish through drought or strong sun.
Herbaceous refers to non-woody growth that dies back to the ground in winter. An herbaceous border is a rather pretentious name for an area that contains predominantly perennials, but also might feature shrubs, ornamental grasses, biennials and annuals.
And finally, a knot garden is a decorative and strictly ornamental herb garden featuring foliage designed to look like miniature hedges looping over and under one another.
These beautiful garden beds are time-consuming and require almost daily clipping and watering to maintain.
They are best viewed from above, and make a beautiful focal point for a formal garden.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.