Gardening lingo tips, and a table in the garden

First published by Rattan Direct on 20 April 2016.

Gardening lingo: annuals, biennials, bi-annuals, perennials

Over the decades and centuries gardening has developed its own language. Some words and phrases have been borrowed from allied fields (pun not intended!) like agriculture or botany. Some are specific to gardening. Just as it makes your life easier if you can order a coffee in French when you’re in France, so it makes your gardening life easier if you at least understand some technical gardening lingo! We’ll lend you a hand in getting up to speed.

This week, annuals, biennials, bi-annuals, perennials. What on earth?

Annuals are flowering plants that go through their entire biological lifecycle in one growing season. That’s starting from seed, sprouting, growing leaves, producing flowers, and producing mature and viable seed. And then they die. Peas and beans are annuals. So is lettuce. Marigolds too.

Hoverflies and marigolds at House of Dun
Hoverflies on marigolds at House of Dun, Angus
© Copyright Gwen and James Anderson and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Biennials are flowering plants that take two years to go through their lifecycle. Gorgeous foxgloves are biennials. You sow the seed outside this year and they grow leaves, stems and roots. Then you have nice sturdy plants to plant out in the autumn. Over winter they become dormant. And next year they flower! And then you dig them up and start again.

Bi-annuals are plants that flower twice in a year. Many roses will if you cut off the dead heads and hardy geraniums will often do this if you give them a good haircut after their first flowering in June.

Perennials are herbaceous non-woody plants that can survive frost and live for more than two years.

Pro tip: Grow perennials like the wonderful wallflower and lovely sweet William as biennials because they don’t do very well the following year, and can become too untidy. Hollyhocks, too. If they are in dry and sandy soils they can become perennial but elsewhere they’re not so keen and strong and may become prey to rust disease.

And some information for the pub quiz. A plant can be grown as an annual or a perennial depending on the local growing conditions. Tomatoes are a perennial when they grow in their native habitat in Central and South America.

Tell me, how useful is a table in the garden?

Very! With a small garden and no greenhouse, I do a lot of propagation in the so-called ‘garden room’. I have a table by the back door where plants can ‘harden off’ before they are planted into the garden. It’s quick and easy to nip out and tuck some newspaper over them if frost is forecast.

I use the table for ripening onions in the summer. I use it to put my small hand tools on before I bring them inside at the end of the day. I use it for my cup of coffee.

A table is best, in my humble opinion. But before I got the table I used an old tea trolley and some shelves.

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