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What's It All About?

Plant catalogues can be a bewildering read, particularly for the novice gardener. Never fear – Flo Whitaker’s horticultural translation service is here to help guide you through the marketing jargon

Just when you’ve finished de-clogging your letterbox of forlorn Christmas cards sent by vaguely-recalled people you haven’t seen for over 20 years, brace yourself for the deluge of plastic charity donation sacks that are about to start landing on your mat with the unerring accuracy of a cruise missile. “Your local penguin rehoming/hippo hospice/unicorn petting zoo needs your unwanted Christmas tat!” As if that wasn’t bad enough, ‘tis also the season for the aspirational lifestyle plant catalogue – expect an avalanche of those at any moment. These glossy publications, promising perfect, stress-free, low-maintenance gardens are invariably illustrated with people who have clearly never done a day’s gardening in their lives, (check the ultra-clean manicured fingernails) and ‘curated’ by wordsmiths employing vocabulary so upbeat that it borders on mild hysteria. But what does all the wordage mean? It seldom tells you anything about the plants. Allow me to translate some of the most frequently used phrases. I make no apology for the over-use of the exclamation mark. Examination of any plant catalogue will show the little blighters cropping up like ground elder. Tsk! (Oh, look - there’s another one…)

“Our carefully selected plant collections!” 

Translation: We’ve done a deal with a Dutch nursery and screwed the wholesale price down so hard that our supplier is only prepared to despatch the inferior varieties that no-one else wants. 

“Extremely rare!” 

Translation: A plant so utterly hideous and lacking in merit, commercial cultivation of it ceased years ago. 

“Produces a vigorous trailing cascade of foliage!” 

Translation: Will root into the gaps between the paving.

“Produces a vigorous upright column of foliage!” 

Translation: Will root into the gutters. 

“Stunningly vibrant blooms!” 

Translation: Sunglasses recommended. 

“Reliably hardy in mild winters!” 

Translation: Unless you live on the Isles of Scilly – forget it. 

“A consistently reliable performer!” 

Translation: No matter how many applications of weedkiller you chuck on this plant, it will always return with a vengeance. 

“We have spent ten years building up sufficient stocks to make this plant available!” 

Translation: 99% of seedlings get mildew and die. 

“Extremely prolific!” 

Translation: So is typhoid – but you wouldn’t want that either. 

“Your neighbours will be amazed!” 

Translation: Your neighbours will put their house up for sale and move to an address where they don’t require a machete to find their front door.

“Elegant, statuesque habit.” 

Translation: Blows over. 

“Ground-hugging, compact habit.” 

Translation: We’ve tried breeding the ugly, dwarfing genes out of this plant, but haven’t succeeded.” 

“Guaranteed 100% reliable.” 

Translation: Tediously boring. 

“Blooms non-stop!” 

Translation: Like an opinionated, drunk relative that won’t shut up or go home, this impolite plant outstays its welcome and refuses to go dormant or die off gracefully. No-one wants to look at a luminous pink frilly begonia in January. Bah!