I’ve bought a lot of plants just to learn them or to see how they compare with other, similar plants. So it is beyond frustrating when I lose the labels and can’t remember what they are. Is it Echinacea Sombrero something or Adobe something? Hibiscus ‘Hoy Malloy,’ ‘Holy Grail,’ or something else completely? And what the hell is that fern? They all look alike when you don’t know them. And none of this is helped by a bad memory. So it is indeed frustrating. And it’s embarrassing. When a visitor asks what something is and I can’t tell them, I feel stupid. As a professional, I’m supposed to know these things and even though I could just make something up and they would never know it, and it would never effect the trajectory of the world’s future in any way, for some reason I have too much integrity to do that. Dumb. 

In the past, I tried different things—various word files, spreadsheets, folders filled with dirty plant tags, and more. But none of these worked. They depended on following up after a day in the garden, or keeping tags or notes in some kind of order. File under “Never Had a Chance.” Finally, I came up with something that works, and it only requires the phone I’ve always got in my pocket and a little time downloading and naming photos. 

Plant tags from the garden center never seem to last and they look ugly. So I try to limit labels in the garden to just new plants and those people tend to ask about. I have found these small plastic labels are not too obtrusive and white paint from an acrylic pen to be easy to read and long lasting.

Each time I plant something new, I take at least two pictures of it. The first is a photo of the tag in the garden where it is sited. This is a wide-angle shot, which includes long standing identifiable features (like trees or rocks or buildings). And then I take a picture of the tag itself, just in case it can’t be read in the wide-angle photo.

A broad shot that includes the driveway, road, and tree, I’ll always know right where these Scilla were planted.


A close up of the tag will help me remember the full name and from whom I bought it.

From my phone, the photos I take go immediately to Google Photos, so they live in the cloud. Not good enough. This makes it too hard to label and too hard to search if you take a lot of  photos. You’ll have to scroll and scroll and scroll. So the next step is an important one. I download these photos and name them. I name them like this: Scilla litardierei @Home 101023. So that’s the Latin name (genus and species) and the cultivar name when there is one, where the plant is located, and the date (MMDDYY).  Another example could be: Carpinus caroliniana @Longwood 072219. 

Once downloaded, you can simply copy and paste these photos into a folder marked, “Plant Location Photos,” or something like that, and maybe that’s all you need. No need to subdivide further.  But I have many thousands of plant photos, both at home and from other places, so I’ve organized my photos in a way that works pretty well for me. 


My main photo folder. The plants are all sorted alphabetically.


The SSS folder. In here are all my photos sorted by genus. Genera with many species and species with many cultivars might be subdivided again.

Maybe this system or some variation of it will make life easier for you in some way. If you have suggestions on how I can improve it, I’m all ears. 

The same memory that can’t retain plant names is the same one that forgets different tasks I intend to do later in the year. I have found temporary labels in the garden will help me remember sites for plants on order or plants I hope to move or divide in the spring.

And why limit temporary reminder labels to gardening when they can also remind me of New Year’s resolutions?