University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article

Dr. Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Professor, and

Have you ever considered planting a zoo garden?

By this I don't mean a garden planted for a variety of animals, as you might find at a zoo. Rather, it is a garden, usually designed for kids, containing perennials and other flowers named after animals and other wildlife. The common names are fun for kids, and the stories about how they got their names is fun for adults.

Beebalm (Monarda) is, as the name suggests, attractive to bees, so you need to watch out when working around them.  Butterfly flower (Asclepias), which is sometimes confused with the less attractive butterfly weed, attracts butterflies.  The pink species in particular is the food source for the monarch butterfly larvae.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is named, as you might guess, for the cardinal red color of its flowers.  For another bird name, consider planting the Bird's- foot Trefoil.

Although these are all perennials, the Cockscomb (Celosia) is an annual. It can have plumed flowers, or crested ones similar to a rooster's plumage. This might go well with the low rock garden perennial Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum).

Or how about Cranesbill (Geranium), a perennial whose fruit, not flowers, resembles this bird's beak.  Dragon's Blood (Sedum) is a scary name for an attractive low perennial with fleshy leaves that turn blood red.  Whether it's the red of dragon's blood is questionable, but the name is fun.

In early summer you may see blue and white perennial flowers of Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia). They resemble bells, perhaps brought by rabbits or hares?  Use your imagination.

Lamb's Ears (Stachys) is a low-growing perennial with leaves that are softer, many people say, than actual lamb's ears.  Pig squeak (Bergenia) is one of the more unusual plant names, especially as it refers not to the look of a plant or plant part, but to a sound.  Rub the large leaves between your thumb and forefinger and with practice you should hear the sound of a pig squeaking!

Some plants have names of reptiles and insects.  Snake plant (Sansevieria), for example, is actually a houseplant that tolerates low light, but it can be put outdoors in summer in the shade. Its narrow leaves stand upright, and don't trail on the ground like a snake as you might think.

Tickseed (Coreopsis), however, is a perennial.  Its yellow flowers appear in late summer.  Don't worry.  It doesn't attract ticks!  Its small seeds resemble ticks, and thus the name.  Wormwood (Artemisia) has silvery hairy leaves, which are not bothered by caterpillars, or worms, as some people call them.

Big game plants might include the perennial Leopard's Bane (Doronicum), the tender Lion's Ear (Leonurus) and Monkey flower (Mimulus), or the bulbous Tiger Lily (Lilium tigrinum). Zebra Grass (Miscanthus zebrinus) has horizontal gold stripes on the leaves, resembling the stripes on a zebra. Or how about the Ostrich Fern or Kangaroo Paw?

For wildlife closer to home, in addition to Harebells there is Bunny Tails, Bear's Breeches, and Skunk Cabbage.  Domestic and farm animals lend their names to Cattails, Pussy Toes, Pussy Willow, Catnip, Dogtooth Violet, Goatsbeard, Cowslip, Buffalo Grass, Horsetail, Gooseberry, and Gooseneck Loosestrife.

These are not all your choices by any means.  Check local garden centers and mail order catalogs.  Or go on line for other ideas.  Just keep in mind that not all of these plants, or others with fun animal names, are suitable for all plant hardiness zones or growing conditions.  Select according to what will grow in your location.

When planning this type of theme garden, don't worry too much about design. You may group by plant type—annuals, perennials, and such—for ease of care, or simply by animal type as mentioned above and as found in actual zoos.  The important thing is for you and your kids to have fun!

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles