How to Learn More about Plants and Vocabulary for Plants and Planting

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

In episode 12 of Think Big, I share some ways you can learn more about plants (without going back to school). I share some of the ways I learnt about plants and developed my passion over years of working as a landscape architect. I also share some simple examples of future simple and how we can use 'going to' to describe the predicted benefits of plants.

I discuss:

✨How my story with plants began

✨How to pronounce Latin names

✨My top 7 tips for learning more about plants and diving deep into understanding more

✨ The language of speculation (making predictions to describe the future benefits of plants or design features

Recommended episodes:

Episode 11 - Building Smart Zero-Net Carbon Cities: Paris Climate Action Plan and the Language of Cause & Effect

Episode 7 - How to Communicate Your Ideas Better Visually & Verbally with Steven Rubio from Show it Better

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✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull

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Table of Contents


📚 Oaxaca Journal, Oliver Sacks

📚 Planting: a new perspective by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury

📚 Planting Design: Gardens In Time And Space: Oudolf, Piet, Kingsbury

📚 Australian Planting Design, Paul Thompson 📚 Edna walling book of Australian planting design


My grandparents house

Books and Resources




internal greenery - indoor plants or green walls

native bush foods - native s grown for an edible purpose

edible plants - plants are grown to be eaten

common name - not a taxonomic name

botanical name - taxonomic classification

cultivar - a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective ) breeding

(plant) trait - a specific quality or feature of a plant grown for a specific purpose

plant adaptations - special features that allow a plant or animal to live in a particular place or habitat.

native plant - native to a specific region

indigenous plant - origins in a very specific geographical area

exotic plant - a plant that isn't native to a region or cultivar

evergreen - plant that keeps leaves all year round

deciduous - plant that loses its leaves in autumn/winter

spontaneous (plant) - grows without human intervention

screening - blocks out unsightly views

shading - planted specifically to provide shade

topiary plant - manicured or clipped foliage

climber plant - plant that can be twining (requires a support structure) or self-supporting (can support itself without a frame or wires

accent planting - feature planting

wholesale plant nurseries - sells plants to a retail nursery or landscaper (not the general public)

tubestock - small seedling

container size - size of plant pot

drought tolerant - can grow with less water

root ball - the size of the main mass of roots

calliper - the trunk diameter


getting my hands dirty - to do hard work or do gardening

Phrasal verbs

come across - discover

look after - care for something

pay very close attention - be careful

cut (something) back - prune



Quick Find Snippets - Take me straight to these sections

My story with plants

How to pronounce botanical names

7 Tips for learning more about planting


Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:00

You're listening to think big Episode 12

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:10

Hello big thinkers and welcome to Episode 12 of Think Big English for architects. I'm your host Tara Cull, landscape architect, English teacher and communication coach for ArchiEnglish. As part of my work at ArchiEnglish, I coach people in the built design profession who speak English as a second language to build outstanding communication skills, and feel more confident to speak up. Now you can learn more about my coaching programmes and upcoming courses at If you haven't listened to the podcast before, and this is the first time you have listened. This podcast, the purpose of the podcast is as a listening resource, and also to think about some of the ways that we use language in the architecture profession, especially if English is your second language, or your third or your fourth, and you would like to build more professional English skills.

In today's episode, I'm going to talk to you about something I am intensely passionate about. And that is about plants and how you can learn more about them without going back to university. So this is going to be the perfect warm-up episode to the next episode, which is an interview with Emmaline Bowman from STEM at landscape architecture, where we're going to discuss biodiversity in landscape design.

I really had to restrain myself a little from talking about plants in the past, but I decided it might be time to start talking about it since Claudia who is a listener of the podcast sent me a message. And she asked me about how to learn more about plants. I also get this question very often from some of my clients, also from architects and landscape architects that I speak to and even interior designers, and I realised I have a lot to share on this subject. Given that landscape architecture was my first degree, I've also studied horticulture and I worked in a nursery, I realised maybe people do want to listen to what I have to say about plants. So that is what I'm going to be sharing on the episode today. This episode will be great for you if you like plants, or if you want to know more about them. Or you also just want to improve your listening comprehension and listen to an interesting topic, and something that I'm passionate about. So in the episode today, I'm going to share my top seven tips, including some resources that I know of and of course, if you're curious, I'd love to hear from you about any of your resources that you have that you would like to share. So you can come and share with them with me on Instagram. Or you can come and comment on the post for this particular episode. At the end of the episode, I'm also going to share some examples of how you use future simple and going to, to explain the benefits of particular plants and what they can do and the function that they perform. Because as you know plants when we plant them, they can be quite small. And we have to wait many years or many months for the full benefit of the plants to be felt. So we're going to use examples of how you might explain to a client what is going to happen, what are the plants going to do or what are they going to provide? So we'll talk about that at the end of the episode. As always, you'll find the key vocabulary and the transcript for today's episode in the show notes at so let's get into today's episode.


The Mexican architect Louis Barragan says I don't divide architecture landscape and gardening to me they are one and for me the architecture and landscapes which surrounds us really make us who we are. And you can certainly see this through the work of Louis Barragan particularly in his house and his studio. And another example not of Barragan's, but where you can see this is in Casa Azul, which is one of Frida Kahlo houses in Coyoacan, Mexico City. Both of these examples for me show how the experience within the house can be transformed by the landscape which it's surrounded by but it's not just the physical structures that influence our lives. It's the experiences that we have within these houses that marks us and that really rings true for me with my experience. My love of plants started in my grandma's vegetable garden. She lived on this huge four-acre property in the foothills in Emerald in Victoria. And in the heart of this Eucalyptus bush my grandma and grandpa had a log Cabin on stilts overlooking a forested Valley and down, looking down from the balcony was a huge vegetable garden. It was always full of plants was surrounded by passionfruit plants and fruit trees. And we would go on walks to visit the eucalyptus forest. And we would

come across moss and ferns and orchids, and fungus. And my grandma would explain the importance of all these different plants within the forest. And then lastly, we'd visit the vegetable garden, we'd pick the fruit, we'd pick all the vegetables or the salads, and we would eat them. And so I understood the importance of plants. But my, my love of plants really grew this one particular day, my grandma and my sister, we went for a walk around the property. And we had just almost arrived back and my sister was just wanting to get back into the house. And she decided she was going to take a shortcut through the garden. And when she did that, she got bitten by a bullet which is a giant ant. And she was screaming and yelling, and my grandma quickly ran inside the house to see if she could find the the cream or the ointment to help her with the bite. She couldn't find any. And then she had a quick idea to go and get some Bracken Fern from the garden. So Bracken Fern is a native plant to the area, she opened the Bracken Fern and she wiped the liquid (sap) from the inside of the fern onto my sister's bite. And then miraculously, my sister stopped crying and, and she was healed. And so from then on, I remember vividly this, this memory of feeling like how amazing was it that a plant with medicinal properties could save my sister from crying and, and feeling upset. So then my curiosity for plants really grew again when my dad who became so excited by plants as well, so he would volunteer at the local indigenous nursery. And they always bring home native plants to our garden. And so I really came to understand more about plants and to really grow to love them.


Thinking back to my, my grandma's house as well, I actually found a photo of it. And it's been sold a few times since my my grandparents owned it. So I've put a link to the image of this in the show notes. And you'll be able to see this house where all of my my love, where the birth of my love for landscapes and architecture really started. And I think for me, it really helped me to develop this idea that architecture and gardens and landscapes come together so seamlessly. It really makes sense for me to when I decided what I wanted to do at university that I would choose landscape architecture. But I guess for me, what always shocked me was how much I felt I didn't learn about plants. After spending a few years in working as a landscape architect in a multidisciplinary practice. I was working with engineers and planners, and other landscape architects, of course, and urban designers. I just felt like I didn't know enough about plants. So I transitioned to work for a residential landscape design company. And I started to learn more about plants and to understand more about soils and gardening, but I really wanted to know more. So being a lover of learning, I went back to university and I started doing some subjects from the master of horticulture at Melbourne University. And this is where my knowledge grew. So I loved learning more about plants and understanding that well if I wanted to know more about plants, I would have to learn more about soils and the environment and have a conversation with people who knew more about plants and horticulturalists. So I remember a conversation actually, Peter May. He's a horticultural lecturer, or was a horticultural lecturer at Melbourne University in Burnley. And he told me once that he loved landscape architects because they gave him a job. He said that when he was working, lots of people, lots of developers would come to him to say that they need him to fix the landscape job because after 20 years, a plant wasn't working or there were mistakes had been made with the soil or they'd specified the wrong plants for the wrong situation. So it really made me start to think I need to know more about plants if if this is what I'm passionate about. Then I want to know more about plants. So at the time, the company that I was working for my boss was actually a horticulturalist. So I said to him at the time, how am I going to learn more about plants and to become more of an expert?


And at the time, I had started doing my university subjects and he said to me, Tara, you don't need to go back to university. You need to spend time with plants.


You need to be curious. You need to ask questions and learn from experience. And so at the time the company that I was working for we had horticulturalists that worked for us as well. And they would start at seven in the morning. So I used to go to work at seven in the morning and have conversations with some of the horticulturalists or sometimes I would join them on site. And I would help them and then I would do that for an hour, and then I would go into work afterwards.


But I realised that my boss was right, studying horticulture subjects gave me a good understanding of plants gave me a good understanding of where to start. But actually, my real learning came from just getting my hands dirty. And I literally did get my hands dirty those times when I was out on site with the horticulturalists. And I was speaking to them about plants and trying to understand more about the maintenance of plants and why we plant certain things together. That's when I really started to learn. And it's a bit like what I say to people, if you want to be better at speaking, you have to speak. And if you want to know more about plants, then you have to really make friends with them. And so that's exactly what I did. I started working as a landscape architect in a plant nursery in Melbourne. So I left my job where I was working in residential landscape design.


And I was then working in a plant nursery while I was actually studying teaching. So when I was in the nursery, half the time I was designing landscape concepts for residential landscapes, or I was doing things like internal greenery for offices and restaurants, and the other half I was in the truck, so I would get into the truck and I would go and pick up plant orders from wholesale plant nurseries, or I would be speaking to wholesale plant growers, or running small workshops, or I was out on-site and also planting the plants I was setting them out, and also doing maintenance. So I remember a couple of times I would go out and do maintenance, and I would be speaking to the client or the customers about how they can look after the plants as well. One time I was even out shovelling mulch and putting wheelbarrows of mulch onto the garden. All of these things really helped me to understand more about plants. And in my last job before coming to France, I actually designed a small courtyard space using all just native bush foods, which are now coming into to be more cultivated at the moment. I absolutely loved my time at the nursery, it's not necessarily a job that all landscape architects will do. But for me, it's how I really learned about how to deal with people, how to communicate ideas about plants, to people who don't necessarily know as much as you do. And I think I really appreciate it even more. So now, because I saw how it helped me with so many different skills, communication skills, understanding more about what's available commercially, all of those sorts of things which are useful. And I think it's also been a job which has allowed me to be able to work on jobs from France. So jobs in Australia from France, because I have kept a client base that I had when I was there. And so that's why I really wanted to share some of those ways that you can learn more about plants without going back to university so that you feel more confident no matter what your level of understanding is. So you might be an architect, a landscape architect and urban designer. Being able to develop your vocabulary around planting is always a good idea.

But first I wanted to answer some questions I'm often asked and the first one I'm often asked is What is your favourite plant? Now for me, I think that's really, really hard to answer because I think that plants go in different situations in different contexts. But I think because at the moment of me recording this, I have a diffuser on in the room, and it has a citrus smell so it's making me think of citrus plants. So for me, the first one would be Corymbia citriodora which is also known as a Lemon scented gum. And it's a magnificent tree with a beautiful white trunk. But I also like plants like Gingko biloba because I think it has a fascinating story behind it because there is a male plant and a female plant so the way you can tell which is which is the female one has a different leaf shape to the male one. So that's how you can tell the difference. I also really like edible plants, I think, you know growing up with my grandma's vegetable garden, I really came to appreciate how much I love edible plants. Citrus australasica is one of my favourites which is the Australian finger Lime


and then also citrus hystrix, which is a Kaffir Lime because I love cooking with Thai food or cooking Thai food. And then another one that's my favourite, which is just looking at me right now outside in my window is the cactus, which is the Euphorbia Tetragona and that one really reminds me I have very fond memories of my visit to Mexico. So I went to the Oaxaca Botanic Gardens. And it reminds me of my visit to Oaxaca Botanic Gardens and reading Oliver Sacks, Oaxaca journal. So a lot of these things for me, a lot of plants really are embedded in memory as well. So I also like ferns, I have some indoor plants in my office, I have a couple of ferns, and they really remind me of my grandma's garden back in Emerald. Now the second question I get, and this is probably the most common one is how do I pronounce botanical plant names? And I can tell you now it's a challenge even for people that work within the industry.

Often when people would call the nursery or even when I would have to call to make orders, people would ask for plants using the common name. And this was sometimes tricky because the common name can be the same for many different plants, or a particular plant can have four or five different common names. You might know it as one common name, but I might know it as a different common name. So the important thing to know about plants is that there is one common language which we can all use and understand. And that is the Latin classification system. So where we use botanical names, Carl Linnaeus, who is a Swedish botanist, came up with this naming system for naming organisms for classifying organisms in 1758. And he proposed this system in his book Sistema Naturae. So for me, it's so poetic because I guess no matter what language we speak, we have a common language. And that is the Latin naming system that we use to classify plants and organisms. So going back to the original question about pronunciation, there's a couple of things I want to talk about before I go through that. And that is we have two parts of the botanical name, we have the genus