Tagging My Garden

Gardening Gone Wild's design topic for this month asks how we label our gardens and keep our records. As my garden is small and not open to the public, I don't have any labels in my garden at all. I used to occasionally put out the labels which came with my purchases in my previous gardens, particularly for plants which die down or were in the seasonal pots, but found the plastic soon became brittle and broke up, not to mention how awful they looked in the first place. Gone was the plant's ID and the useful information found on the label. Record keeping was nil. A different solution was needed.

When I started my current garden in 2000, it was the first time I was a plant planner rather than a plant plonker. I'd been reading every gardening magazine and scrap of information I could find on plants for a year before we decided on the garden's design, so I was pretty sure of which ones I'd include. However, the garden was my largest so far and had so many levels and beds, so I wanted to make sure I had something of interest everywhere. I decided to draw a freehand sketch of each bed to show where I'd put my chosen plants. Several attempts were needed as I kept changing my mind on where each plant was to go. I also had hundreds of plant labels as I was planting up from scratch, so it seemed sensible to buy a scrapbook to house my sketches and put the appropriate plant labels alongside. Subsequent pages were used to add labels for new additions to my garden and more notes about how they were doing or further snippets about their care.

All was well for a couple of years and then work went crazy, so I wasn't too good at keeping my records up to date after that. Also two years in is a dangerous time for a garden - you don't like some of the planting because it doesn't go together that well, or you got the spacings wrong and they're all squashed together, or too far apart. And of course you've had the inevitable casualties along the way or need to divide plants so they remain healthy. So I made my changes to my garden - with my plant plonking tendencies reasserting themselves. I found I simply didn't have the time to update everything, especially as some of the drawings were severely out of date, so my solution was this:

Yes, the inevitable basket of labels. I didn't throw them away because they have useful information. You'd think I'd have thrown away the ones for the dead plants wouldn't you? Erm, no. This basket was a godsend for my Open Garden blog though. I'd decided to put some illustrated plant lists for each bed on there and had totally forgotten a lot of the cultivars. The basket held the answer for about 95% of them. Some plants were mislabelled by the supplier, but that's another story.

A large basket of labels isn't a good solution, so what's to be done? I believe the way forward is to use photographs. I've been having a play with Picasa and using the text facility to label my plants - as shown above. Any photo text facility could be adopted - for instance I've seen Flickr's tagging used well by other bloggers. This has several advantages: both general and close-up views of plant combinations can be documented; if a photograph has too many plants to label clearly with text, then a numbering system can be adopted; the garden can be photographed over time, so that succession planting changes can be seen e.g. where spring bulbs come and go. I've found these particularly difficult to show well on my garden plans. Photographs can be updated more easily than plans when plants are moved around or added etc. - it just takes the discipline to do so.

What about the plant care information though? I'm toying with the possibility of setting up another blog for my garden photographs. This will enable me to post a cultivar list alongside each photograph (especially needed if a numbering system is adopted) with links to the best information available on the internet for each plant. As for my day to day records of what gets done in my garden, they go into my lovely RHS diary - next year's is always a treasured Christmas gift.

I have the photographs - taken every month last year for Garden Bloggers Blooms Day, plus all the hundreds of photographs I didn't use for my Open Garden - it's now just a matter of putting the plan into effect. Ummmm.

That's it for my garden - in my next post on this subject (due next week) I'll tell you about the approach to garden labelling and records used by the National Trust.


  1. When I started reading this post I was dismayed at your neat and tidy border plans but was quickly reassured to discover that like me you have a basket of labels. I too have labels for plants that are dead!! I wonder about using photographs but so far havent got my act together.

  2. Hi Helen - I'm glad I managed to dispel your dismay ;)
    It was this month's GGW topic which galvanised me into starting having a play with labelling photographs. I wanted to do it for my Open Garden, but just dodn't have the time. Now whether I manage to finish what I've started and free up that basket is another story!

  3. Helen, this is a really difficult issue, labels look awful but without a really good memory or lots of time, how do we know where things are? We have already had the discussion about Abbey Gardens Malmesbury which is a sea of labels - not all of them correct but really useful in a garden that grows one of each variety. I don't think there will ever be an answer, except lots of time to document everything and then to check before planting. I hate to think of the number of times I have dug up bulbs and plants!

    Good luck with your photos, best wishes Sylvia

  4. Hi Helen,
    as a bona fida plant plonker (what a brilliant description!)I really identified with your blog. Yep, I've got a box of labels - with NO idea where I plonked the plants.
    I am trying very hard to keep the labels with the plants I've put into my ongoing Japanese Garden project, but I don't hold out that much hope for me being able to keep it up!
    I can see that I'm going to have to go down the photo route!
    Thank you.

  5. Another 'plonker' here VP and a label hoarder. When I first started gardening I was really diligent at keeping records of where I had bought plants from or who gave them to me, as well as where they were planted. My good intentions did not last long. Now I have more time on my hands I am going to try hard to improve my record keeping. I like your idea of using Picasa although I think that I may stick to paper. A great project for these winter days before we are too busy gardening.

  6. I used to take lots of photographs from different angles at different times of the year and record new purchases in a book - when I remembered. Labels are no use with cats anyway (lol).

  7. This post reminds that I'm going have to be much more organised on the plot this year.
    I'm definitely a plant plonker as I lost track of all sorts of things last year! xx

  8. there is another alternative to the label basket, that is to take pictures of the labels (front and back) and then burn them to a re-writeable disc, probably a DVD for all the imformation. You can rename the pictures when in a folder for the name of the plant. then you can plonk the disc in, Control F and type the name hey presto, all the details of the plants and no messy bits all over where they can be lost.

    Alternatively, you could put the labels into a photograph binder the ones with the pockets and a quick skim through and you will find them that way, all nice and tidy.

    Not that I am a tidy freak or anything but I like everything in its place, else I am a headless chicken!

    Same with the seed packets, I always damage them. I love my digital camera. can you tell?

  9. Great Post VP.
    I find this a really thorny problem. I have a tatty old box with all my plant labels in. I have also marked herbaceous plants with slate with the name on - but I see that the names are coming off all ready.
    I do think photographs is the way forward, all I need now is time to do it.
    PS, Like Patientgardener - I also have a box of plant labels for dead plants. :)

  10. Hi VP, this is the aha moment I have been waiting for! I had figured out the photo plan, but the labels on the photos, brilliant. Of course around here the plants are moved, moved and moved some more, sort of a hobby, like plonking only without money being spent. I laughed out loud at the solution of the basket too. If only mine were all in one place, sigh. Last year I decided to leave the tag in the ground with the plant, but of course they break off easily, get buried or moved, the basket is better than that. Thanks for all you ideas, I will be trying the photo labeling. Then there is finding the time to do it. :-)

  11. Great post VP, also I have an 'old label basket' that find very usefull, but when I look in it and think of how much money I have 'poughed' down in my garden...it is not an enjoyable thought.
    About labels I love them, labels in the pots and in the garden. I think they are invaluable and nice looking, it makes it look kind of tidy in my otherwise wild garden.
    If I'm in the mood I'll do them in calligraphy...I know this Tyra is a little bit crazy.

    xoxo Tyra

  12. I've been a planner like you with my garden! And I've resorted to the empty containers crammed with plant tags, but I also tried a version of photographs like you. I've bought plant label stand thingies though, even have "weatherprrof" labels I bought in bulk, EVEN have a spredsheet on my computer ready to print up. But, who knows wha will come back? It's so hard to keep up with what dies, and the one thing you put in on a whim but can't remember where it was, so even if it doesn't come back you keep looking for it and then, bam, it's winter again and it all starts over.... Argh.

  13. Dear VP,

    Oh goodness another blogger thing I am way behind on the learning curve...labeling photos! It's such a good idea, too! I have all my tags tucked away in some mugs...they are referred to as the Bouquets of Bloom Tags. This bouquet also includes, the dead and the removed plant...no idea why! There doesn't seem to be an organizer cell anywhere in this body, well, not a left brained sense of organizing. That's my story and I am sticking to it! Loved the post!


  14. If I only could get the labels to a basket...!

    I like to think that I know where every little plant is, but when spring comes I know that I'm wrong, again.

    Strangely enough I have managed to make a list with all my plant purchases, but the labels are still all white, laying in a box in my greenhouse.


  15. As an obsessive planner, I remember what all my plants are, where all my plants are, and what their care needs are ...

    ... but I still have a pot full of labels from dead plants!

  16. Hmm, there is much I learned from you here, VP. I have a discipline problem, I know that;( Plus, I've thrown most tags away, and don't know what I've got the next yr. which is frustrating when I want to add something earlier than a plant comes up from the ground. I love the picasa tool for writing on the photos, so far i've used it only for my name. adding it for naming blooms, and bushes, etc. is a great idea!
    I give you lots of credit for your organization skills. Can you please send some my way?

  17. Great post, VP! I too was humbled by your incredibly detailed original plan, then equally relieved to see your basket of labels. I think the idea of adding ID information on your photographs is brilliant. Thanks so much for sharing this for the GGW Design Workshop.

  18. VP - I really like the idea of taking a picture each month and typing the plant names right on there. I may try that this year.

  19. Sylvia - thanks, perhaps the current bad whether will give me the incentive to get on with it!

    Nutty gnome - I think it's the way to go, good luck!

    Anna - sounds like we're in similar boats. Good luck with Picasa :)

    Hermes - I'd forgotten about the cat angle, You're right, they'd dig them up right away!

    Flighty - I think most of us are plant plonkers judging by these comments! xx

    SOL - I like your binder idea. You need to take care with the DVD idea though, the data on them corrupts after a while, particularly if you store them in the light. However neither solution tells you which plant is where!

    Karen - I think you'd be really good with the photograph solution. Your slate idea reminds me of something New Shoots told me about a NGS garden vist. They painted the plant names onto pebbles and then 'hid' them under the plants.

    Frances - I see you've already made a start :)

    Tyra - calligraphy labels sound fantastic!

    Benjamin - yes arrrggggggghhhhhh indeed!

    Gail - I was thinking of your pots full of tags when I pulled out my basket of them ;)

    Hilde - we all share those problems. If only there was more time!

    Juliet - I salute your superior gardening abilities :) I'm surprised you keep the dead plant labels though!

    Jan - I'm not organised really, it just looks that way!

    Nan - glad you liked it and thanks for coming up with the idea for the design workshop

    Gina - welcome! I thought you'd like it :)


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