After lots and lots of rain we’ve finally had some sun, and in typical British fashion we are all complaining because it’s too hot. So summer is here in the UK, for a few days at least, and that means we will all be talking about gardens and using common English words for plants and gardening terms. Especially as we rest and enjoy barbecues and talking with friends, now the government has relaxed lock-downs in the UK.
I love gardening and working from home and being able to garden has been one thing that has kept my morale up during lock-downs. Now that I can go out and I can visit others it’s time to enjoy my friends’ gardens, and that means using English gardening phrases and vocabulary.
If you do not have a garden, there are plenty of options to enjoy some flowers and busy bees in the UK, from public parks to garden shows and festivals. So at the end of the podcast I’ve talked about some flower shows I like to visit, partly because they are near London but also because they are some of the most spectacular flower shows in the UK.
One of the
biggest advantages of learning English through listening is the ability to keep learning while you are doing other things. So if you're on the beach, take your headphones and listen while you sunbathe. If you're travelling back to work having been working from home, now is the time to listen in your car or on the train or bus to work. Maybe you're at home, just put on some headphones while you wash the car or the dishes. The point is to make listening to English being spoken by a native English speaker a habit that fits into your life. Keep listening to this and all our podcast lessons. The more you listen, the easier speaking English fluently is.
Herbaceous Perennial Bulb Rural Shrubs Cottage Veterans
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So one of the pleasures of living in the UK is that we have a good climate for our gardens. Although we probably get more rain here, than in many parts of the world, we do also get a warm summer usually – and it’s not severely cold in the winter.
When I say ‘It’s not severely cold in the winter’, I guess that depends upon what you’re used to. Typically there’s a range here in the UK – the north of Scotland is going to be colder on average than the English south coast – but it doesn’t often get below minus 7C in southern England in the winter and usually the temperature is much higher than that.
And in the summer, temperatures in the 20s – that’s degrees celsius - is the norm. And it doesn’t often get beyond 30C, though that does happen sometimes.
All of this means that on the whole, we have quite good growing conditions for a lot of plants. In terms of fruit and vegetables, we can grow potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, beans, cabbages, lettuces, peas, mushrooms, herbs, courgettes, pumpkins and garlic.
We can also grow peppers and tomatoes, chillis, cucumbers and aubergines, though I’m told that in the colder parts of the UK, you need a greenhouse to do some of these. In the south of the UK, you can grow these things outside in the summer months.
As you may know if you’ve listened to the Adept English podcast for a while, I always grow tomatoes in the summer and this year, we have chilli plants as well. We also grow apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and rhubarb in the UK. What we can’t grow are oranges, lemons, bananas – things like that.
A photograph of vegetables. This English language podcast lesson is about words you might use in an English garden.
What also grow well here – lots of plants which are grown purely for their appearance – so called ‘ornamentals’ in gardening speak. So there are lots of plants which we grow purely because they look nice – they make our gardens pretty.
So of course there are trees, which can have a massive effect on the environment around. Trees are also homes for birds and wildlife and are important to the eco-system in our gardens. Trees make our towns and cities much pleasanter environments.
If you don’t have a garden, it’s nice to see trees when you look out of your window, rather than just bricks and concrete.
Down from trees in terms of size, you next have shrubs, that’s SHRUBS or bushes. These are woody plants, like a tree, but smaller – and for them to be included in your garden, they usually have some characteristic of value, of merit.
They might have evergreen leaves – that means they don’t lose their leaves in the winter, they keep them on all year. Or it might be that we grow shrubs for colour in autumn or we grow shrubs because they have fruit or berries on them.
Or we grow shrubs or bushes because they have flowers on them – which are pretty and which smell nice. Think of roses, azaleas, lavender – these are all shrubs which we grow for their appearance.
One of the styles of gardening which is very typical in the UK is known as ‘cottage garden’. The word ‘cottage’, COTTAGE is another word for ‘house’ – but this word has particular associations.
A cottage sounds small, ‘rural’, RURAL – that means ‘of the countryside’, a bit quaint and olde worlde maybe. And if you adopt the style of cottage garden planting for your garden, which is just so popular at the moment, this means that you plant in your garden lots of plants of the type known in English as ‘herbaceous perennials’. Some vocabulary here – the word ‘herbaceous’, HERBACEOUS.
So herbaceous plants grow and become quite big and leafy in the summer, but in the winter time, you’d hardly notice them. They disappear back into the ground. In other words, they ‘die back’ in the cold – almost as though they hibernate, like animals. And in the summer, they grow up again, they ‘do their thing’ – lots of flowers, lots of leaves, then they die back the next winter. So the second word in ‘herbaceous perennials’ - ‘perennial’. This word is spelt PERENNIAL and it can be used as an adjective – meaning that ‘it’s always there, it doesn’t go away’. So when you use ‘perennial’ as a noun to describe a plant – it’s one that just carries on growing, as long as you provide the right conditions, it continues to grow.
What happens with many of them – they either spread, SPREAD which means that the plant takes over more and more of the ground or they ‘self-seed’. So they drop their seeds everywhere and new plants grow. This is nature ‘doing its thing’ – plants growing in size or dropping their seeds.
So there are hundreds and hundreds of perennial plants, of herbaceous perennials. And ‘cottage garden’ style planting means lots of herbaceous perennials. In such a garden in the winter, there wouldn’t be that much to look at.
You might have a few shrubs and bushes and there may be some bulbs, but nothing else would be showing. A bulb, BULB is a part of a plant, usually a sphere which grows in the ground and sends out shoots. Think of daffodils, DAFFODILS or onions, even. They’re both bulbs. So in a cottage garden it may be the shrubs and bulbs which show in the winter, but in ‘cottage garden’ planting, late spring, summer and early part of autumn, before the first frosts put an end to things – that’s when ‘cottage garden’ planting come into its own.
The word ‘frost’, FROST – that’s when the air temperature is cold enough to dip below 0C and you get a little white covering of ice on your plants. Cottage garden plants will die back then – and then come again the following year.
‘Cottage garden’ planting is so popular at the moment and very lovely in the summer – and our climate in the UK is particularly suited to this. We get enough rain to keep them watered and enough sun, usually, to keep them in flower. If you google ‘herbaceous borders’ and RHS Wisley, you’ll get some idea of the kind of planting that I mean.
I was fortunate this year, despite the pandemic, to be able to go to the Hampton Court Flower Show. This is a show which runs every year – usually – but it didn’t run in 2020 for obvious reasons. It’s where garden designers put together what are called ‘show gardens’ – so they make a temporary garden just for the show – which is quite a challenge in itself.
These gardens are beautiful and are an inspiration to gardeners that go to see them. They make you wish you had a garden like that! There are also hundreds of stalls, selling things to do with gardening. Plants, tools, furniture, barbecues – even garden buildings. So if you’re into gardening, then the Hampton Court Flower Show is a really good place to go. And this year, ‘cottage garden’ style of planting was everywhere.
Hampton Court is worth a visit in its own right, any time of year – not just the week that the Flower Show is on. It was the home of King Henry VIII – you may have heard of him? He’s the British king, who had six wives and who had two of his wives beheaded!
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That’s a special verb ‘to behead’ – you don’t come across that one in many contexts fortunately, but Henry VIII is one of those contexts. Anyway, Hampton Court was his palace – so it’s very old and very beautiful. And the grounds a lovely venue in south west London for a flower show.
The other flower show which is famous, and which normally happens every year too – is the Chelsea Flower Show. That’s CHELSEA and that’s an area in London. The Chelsea Flower Show usually happens earlier in the season – and it’s held on the site of the Royal Chelsea Hospital, home of the Chelsea Pensioners – also in South West London.
It’s a smaller venue – so it was virtual last year because of the pandemic. But it’s scheduled to happen this year, but in September. The Royal Chelsea Hospital is a home for retired war veterans. And that was set up by King Charles II in 1682. And the Chelsea Flower Show has been held there since 1912.
But I think Hampton Court is nicer in some ways, because it’s a bigger site, more space. We were fortunate this year to be able to go to the Hampton Court Flower Show on the last day. And do you know what this means? At 4pm precisely, all the displays containing all the hundreds and hundreds of plants are sold off to the general public. So my friend and I stayed for this – and we got some nice plants!
Just a little insight into what gardeners in South West London might have been doing a couple of weekends ago – and if you have chance to look at the photographs – just google Hampton Court and you’ll be able to see – it’s quite an inspiration. And you never know – when you can visit the UK again, see if you can time your trip to correspond – it’s a lovely day out.
Anyway, I hope that’s interesting and gives you some nice vocabulary to think about and something pleasant to listen to and to practise your English on.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.