To Label or Not to Label?
There are some of us who aspire to put plants together in a considered and beautiful setting in such a way that they offer visual delight in their associations and general amazing wonderfulness. This sadly cuts no ice with the plant collectors, sometimes flattered by the term ‘plantsmen’ before that became illegal. Plants Persons, then, perhaps. Perhaps there’s a little of them in all of us gardeners. I imagine it’s possible that Constable saw a new paint on someone’s canvas and longed to know what it was and how he could get some.
Anyway, these people want labels on the plants so that they can – yes – go off and get some. Especially if, tragically, you fail to offer a nursery on the premises where they can obtain them effortlessly and ideally cheaply.
I have heard that “The curator at Abbotsbury subtropical gardens said ‘Many people want to know plant names and often put down ‘poor labelling’ as a negative on our visitor surveys.'” O, ouch.
Labels are not usually a beautiful addition to a garden.
They don’t work.
They do come in many different guises, none of which are satisfactorily permanent if affordable. Most of us can only afford plastic, written on with ‘permanent markers’ which fail to offer anything beyond a few tantalising and frustrating smudges after six months. Pencil is marginally better and I am trying burying the labels in pots to see if the absence of light helps. Examining the emerging growth of mystery plants in the nursery this spring will enlighten me. Or not.
But were your labels ever so posh, where can you site them in a garden that has, as it should, wall to wall plants all happy and fully in bloom in summer? Some gardens we visit have visible labels in spring, when understandably there is much space between the emerging plants. But this may lead to some confusion when a label which accurately identified an herbaceous plant in summer sits by a bulb in spring.
Other bad things
There are other downsides to labels. Blackbirds pull out and chuck. So, apparently, do some visitors. People trample on the beds and maybe even the plants in their eagerness to get a name. You have to bend down to stick them in. And bend down to read them.
Perhaps this will be the future? But I see a certain fading already and it’s a whopping size.
And some people find an app on their phone will identify plants. Sounds good to me. Phones do help: people bring their pictures of my plants to identify these days. Much easier than those confusing descriptions going ‘it’s over there somewhere, behind that hedge..’
So, do I ever label? I have done recently, I confess. It was a new planting and I thought I’d enjoy knowing what these strange plants which I hadn’t had before were when they popped up in the spring. Oh huh.
Well, one survived, being the nursery’s label.
We do have a system of sorts for identifying our plants at Veddw. Charles cannot sell a picture with plants in unless they are accurately labelled so we’ve had a go at a system for knowing what some of them are. We have a box containing a big envelope for each part of the garden and a plant label goes in the envelope whenever usually when I plant something new. This limits the guesswork…
And I did discover a context where I thought labels added a certain something. I’d love to show you, but can’t find a picture. However, it’s like this. I have sometimes displayed succulents in a divided box – so:
And I have been known to include labels in the pots in the box and found it sort of looked right. I think because they have a kind of ‘specimen’ or ‘collection’ look. It would be a good time to use some really nice labels. All of which is a far cry from a rather wild and woolly garden scene, though.
I fear we will never grow rich, opening our garden. No labels, no teas, no guided tours, no mornings….