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A Beginner's Guide to some Key Abbreviations in Gardening Books and Catalogues

(April 05, 2013)
I remember when I first became interested in growing plants that there just seemed to be so many things to learn and to understand.  For quite a few years it seemed as if I was expected to learn some sort of foreign language.  For the Beginner this often seems very daunting but I do urge you to persevere as growing isn't difficult, it is about gradually building upon your knowledge.  I would highly recommend the Hessayon series of gardening books. These useful growing guides, which are widely available, list practically every single type of plant that would be generally grown in a UK or Irish garden.
I think the following abbreviations are probably one of the most basic, useful and fundamental things to initially understand in garden terminology.  You will come across the short form over and over and knowing what they refer to is essential when you are browsing through seed and plant catalogues.
= Hardy Annual
Either plants or seeds that do not need to be started off inside.  In other words they may be planted or sown directly into the garden or a container etc. at the appropriate time of the year.  Generally the plant will last one season and then die but often they will self seed and a new plant will be generated and come back in the following year.  This does vary though and it isn't always the case and it is something that you will come to understand over time.
= Half Hardy Annual
This category are all frost tender and should be started off inside.  In other words, you would not plant or sow direct into the ground - they need help to get off to a good start and become established.  Otherwise they are similar to HA above.  Mostly they would not self seed for the following year and new plants or new seed would be needed.
= Hardy Perennial
This is one of the main groups of plants that people have in their gardens.  They are planted directly into the ground or in containers and they will live for many years.  The new plant may be from a seed or a cutting, or by division from the parent plant.  Over the winter months, after the first autumn frosts, they will die back and live underground during the cold months.  In the Spring they come out of their dormant state and put on lots of new growth and spread each year.  Flowering usually commences from the 2nd year once established.
= Half Hardy Perennial
As HP but cannot tolerate frost and extremely cold conditions.  The plants would need to be mulched well to protect them over the winter months or, alternatively, dug up and potted into containers for overwintering inside.
= Hardy Biennial
A plant would complete its entire life cycle in 2 years.  It would grow in Yr 1 and in Yr 2 it would reproduce, by different methods depending on the type and finally it would sadly die.
= Half Hardy Shrub
Most Scented Leaf Pelargoniums would be in this category.
Like the majority of shrubs these plants will live for many years. However, they will survive as long as they are not exposed to frosts and extreme cold weather. 
= Greenhouse Perennial
This is quite a wide category as most plants that are listed as being a GP would be OK outside in the UK or Ireland during summer months.  This can be confusing but the most important thing to remember is that this group of plants would be more on the delicate side and they would not like bad conditions at any time of the year.  Definitely would not like frost or cold conditions and quite often would not enjoy too much rain or wind.  If a plant was listed in a catalogue as a GP I would tend to stick with growing it in a greenhouse, conservatory etc.

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