A recent post on Danger Garden asked about labels on plants in private gardens and a recent conversation I had with a garden visitor had me thinking recently about putting labels on plants.
In a garden open to the public and especially in botanical gardens (where this is almost a must) this is fine and absolutely helpful to the visitor. But what about a private garden?
A couple of days ago a garden visitor, after seeing a few plant labels in our garden said in a nice jest that we're too young to have plant labels in our garden. I gave her a light tap on the shoulder and said that she was not meant to take note or even see those labels. They are either tucked right down the sides of the pot or underneath it, tag hidden amongst the foliage or at the base of the plant, or label pushed all the way down near the plant with the top part (just enough so I can lift them up again easily) hidden under a mulch or leaf litter. I told her those labels are meant to remind us and not a visitor. Then she claims that she's exactly the same hence she knows where to look for them. Great minds think alike and even better that she called me young (which I take with a pinch of salt).
|Can you spot the labels? They are there, somewhere...|
So yes, we have labels on some of the plants in our garden (even more so in the greenhouse but I suppose that doesn't count) but none of them are prominently displayed.
|Labelling in the greenhouse and stock plants, a different matter...|
I'd say it depends on the garden, on the situation, and how it is done...
On the whole I'd say I'm not in favour of seeing prominent plant labels on private gardens. But this is a slightly complicated subject that needs further explaining.
|Most of our plant labels are not out in the garden but in a plastic box|
Gardens with these sort of labelling I find are fine, tasteful, and even occasionally endearing as it humanises them. That they are just like most of us, may own a garden but does not always remember each and every plant in it by its botanical name.
|Pushed all the way down...|
Depending on the situation, prominence, and degree of labelling, for me it can come across as pretentious, patronising, and most important of all, distracting.
Again, I'd like to emphasise, depending on the situation but why pretentious? Dog tagging a few plants with botanical names, does it imply that the private garden also moonlights as a botanical garden, and the owner is botanically intelligent? No need to even do that if that's the case. The variety of planting, combination, and health of the plants will speak volumes about the skill and intelligence of the gardener. No need for a few 'steel plant necklaces' to do that.
Patronising? Not all of the time of course but to be honest, of private gardens that do put on large labels on some of the plants they usually put it on the most commonly available ones, and funny enough rarely on the obscure. In our experience, of the exotic plants in the UK the most commonly and proudly (and even solely) prominently labelled plant in a garden is....
Sometimes it's accompanied by it's common name and a little description too like...
Chusan Fan Palm
The Hardy Fan Palm
From China but hardy in the UK
|Trachycarpus fortunei - a favourite plant to be labelled in open gardens|
A little tip, if you still go for prominent labelling especially only on days that you open your private garden and show it to groups of people, know your audience first. The more experienced the group is, the likelihood of impressing by putting on special labels will be less. You may gain impression points though if you do so for the rarities.
What about distracting? Well you have this beautiful plant, in what could have been a beautiful vignette, save for the one or several wooden/plastic/slate/white/black/copper/steel labels jutting up from the scene. And too much labelling can quickly turn a garden into looking more like a nursery (except none of the plants are for sale). Walking through, you get more of a feel like you're walking through a garden shop or a garden show rather than a...garden.
My favourite memory of such an inappropriately, over labelled garden was one that has a rather large patch of land covered in wildflowers and is 'naturalistic' in style, and yet there were so many labels jutting out from the meadow indicating what each and every wildflower was in there. Not that naturalistic then. I'm sure those labels didn't just sprout on their own and came with the wildflower meadow seed mix that was sown there in the spring....
But then again, it all depends on the garden, sometimes having lots of labels can look right too. Usually these gardens are the 'collection showcase' types and great ones we've seen have showcased impressive and very vast collections of particular of plants like alpines, succulents,fuchsias, and snowdrops.
|Oops, too proud, must push it down...|
So, back to the title of this post, to label or not to label, that is the question. What are your thoughts about it?
Before I finish this post off, at the risk of rambling too much, a few thoughts that also came to mind was, on the occasions we have visitors in the garden and show our garden to groups of people we both thoroughly enjoy sharing our passion and the human interactions we gain from the visit. We both enjoy it when a guest would get intrigued by a plant or two they spot but are not familiar with then asks us a question about its identity. If we know from the top of our head we say so and the follow up conversation that stems out from it becomes an instrument for sharing and gaining more knowledge, as well as strengthening friendships.
And if we don't know it's identity but know there's a label there somewhere we simply say, come let's both go over there and find the tag together. Then we talk about the plant together and bond over a mutual interest while holding a piece of plastic with a botanical name written on it.