Plant Pet Names

Do you ever name any of your garden plants? I don’t mean in the hybridizing or cultivar-name sense, but as a sort of nickname or shorthand, based on either a characteristic or the plant’s ‘official name.’ I never used to do this before this garden, but now find that at least a dozen of my plants have acquired a ‘pet name.’ Some of them were inherited with the house, and others are new.

Coniferous RexIt began almost immediately, when I noticed that the weeping conifer in the front-walkway bed looked like a dinosaur when view from a certain angle. Being a somewhat contrary person, I dubbed it Coniferus Rex even though it looked far more like a brontosaurus than a tyrannosaur. This is how ‘Rex’ looked in 2015.
He hasn’t changed much in seven years, from this angle, except that his butt has gotten somewhat wider – a fate that many of us can relate to as we age!
However, his ‘face’-on view has definitely become more in keeping with his nickname.


A few years ago it struck me that this pair of conifers are almost identical. They instantly became Tweedledum and Tweedledee.


Sometimes it takes a while for a plant to inspire me with a nickname. Notice the conifer here in late July 2014, with a group of peonies in front of it and a massive oak behind it on the south side. The little bridge spans the center of what are now known as the Bridge Beds.
This is the same conifer as of two months ago. The oak was eliminated in December 2017, and the peony group has been almost completely swallowed up. That seven-foot-tall conifer is now at least 17 feet tall, by my estimation. Maybe 18 feet and aiming for 20. It occurred to me recently that anything this perfectly majestic needs a name, and the name that popped into my head was Geoffrey. No idea why, other than that the first gardening books I ever read were by Geoffrey Charlesworth. (I also read Christopher Lloyd’s books at the same time, but I will never be able to avoid envisioning Doc Brown from Back to the Future every time I see that name). So, I now say a polite ‘good day, Geoffrey’ as I walk past, because anything this imposing deserves at least that much respect!

This little Ginkgo ‘Troll’ has suddenly developed a personality this year, and I feel as if it absolutely deserves a name but can’t think of one that fits. Trolls aren’t generally thought of as cute and cuddly, which this currently strikes me as. In fact, the ‘pose’ of this little guy reminds me of a teddy bear (or maybe two: a mom and a baby bear in front) but ‘Teddy’ doesn’t seem right either. We will just have to wait and see what kind of a name this plant grows into (literally.)

Some of my plants’ pet names are derived from their cultivar names.

The Japanese maple ‘Mikawa Yatsubusa’ became Mick in fairly short order, even though in my mind that name will forever be associated with Crocodile Dundee. (What can I say? The mind works in mysterious ways.)


Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Grace Seabrook’ took a while before acquiring her nickname. This photo was taken a few months after her initial 2019 planting, out of a 2-gallon pot. I was a bit concerned that this spot would be unsuitable because it gets more sun than an osmanthus usually likes to receive.
As soon as it became obvious that my fears were groundless, I took to complimenting Grace on her ever-increasing size and robust health. This was taken in October 2021, two years after the first photo. She’s now about 25% bigger than this. Grace is quite the lady, by the way, and not of a prickly disposition at all – literally, because her leaf edges have no spines.


This little ginkgo, planted only last year out of a scant 1-gal container from Conifer Kingdom, is called ‘Potter Pete’. So, of course he is Pete. Someday, Pete will be 15 feet tall and extremely skinny, so they say…if he stops pottering about and gets down to the business of growing.

One of my earliest Plant Pet Names presented me with a quandary because of pronunciation. I was determined to again grow Halesia carolina ‘UCONN Wedding Bells’ which I had in my previous garden. But there are two equally-acceptable ways to pronounce the species name, according to The Gardener’s Botanical:

ha-LEE-see-uh, HAIL-see-uh
Named after Stephen Hales (1677-1761), British cleric and botanist

I am extremely fond of this lovely tree and so it was a no-brainer that mine would get a nickname; but which one: Hayley (which of course brings to mind the popular Disney teen actress Hayley Mills, if you’re old enough) or Halley/Hallie?
I admit that I spent the first couple of years addressing this plant as both Hallie and Hayley, which probably gave the poor thing an identity crisis. I finally decided on Halley, because “Hey, Hayley” as a greeting just sounded weird (even though I would pronounce the botanist’s name as hails.)

Three trees here acquired names during my Oakleaf Olympics in the autumn of 2015. In my initial post of that series, I wrote:

Of the three trees mentioned, only Marla Maple has retained her nickname. In fact, the slightly raised area in which she sits is officially designated as Marla’s Bed in my garden database. Marla is far greedier than her namesake, unfortunately, because we all know how maple roots tend to suck the life out of anything beneath it; the real Marla Maples only received a paltry $2 million in her divorce settlement from You-Know-Who, no alimony, and a relative pittance for child support.

So, why do only some of my plants have pet names – for whatever reason – while other candidates do not? I honestly have no idea, because it just sort of happens or doesn’t. The Japanese maple ‘Ikandi’ (pronounced eye-candy), planted the same year as Mick, has never tempted me to call it Candy; the Disanthus cercidifolius ‘Rikyu’ is not called Rick; and the Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’ isn’t Goldie…just to name a few. The witch hazel ‘Arnold Promise’ does have a good shot at being eventually called Arnold after it gets significantly larger, though, especially if it starts elbowing the adjacent Heptacodium and fastigiate blue spruce that flank it. But right now, it doesn’t have anything Schwarzenegger-ish about it…yet.

However, the ultimate prize for plant-pet-naming skill must be awarded to my little granddaughter, who recently named…. well, you can read about that in my next post! 😊

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