Name dropping

Don't let the garden down by being a tag dag!

By Lee Ann Bramwell

People often ask if they can come and see our garden – a source of some discomfort, since it’s a work in progress and always will be.

But what’s worse is when they want to know the names of things. “What are those gorgeous palms? What variety of datura is that? Is that carex or lomandra?”

The partner is always growling at me for removing the tags from plants, but I can’t help myself. I hate seeing those little bits of white paper, and I refuse to stick in plastic markers that get decimated and/or desiccated by the tiller. Anyway, the information is quickly obliterated by earth.

What I should do is save the tags and transfer the details to my computer garden plan, but that’s not an activity that particularly excites me.

It’s not just about wanting to look as if I know what I’m doing. The fact is, if you don’t know what the plant is called, you can’t look it up and find out what care it needs.

What’s leaving brown spots on its leaves? Why is the fruit falling off before it matures? And, if you really love it, how do you propagate or find more of the same?

The perfect solution would be to have everything microchipped and carry a little chip reader in a pouch as you wander the garden. I’ve heard that major building product companies are microchipping their pallets so they can keep track. It is quite possibly the way of the future. In the meantime, I’m either going to have to memorise the common and Latin names of every plant in the garden, or find an aesthetically pleasing way of identifying them.

The latter is likely to be more reliable, so it’ll be a matter of buying or making tags, signs or labels for the garden that fit with its style – and don’t stick out like ugly sore thumbs.

These galvanised signs with reinforced eyelets can be embossed with whatever information you choose, and there’s room for both the common and botanical names of your plants.

If your budget permits, you can buy labels made from brass, copper, zinc, bronze, timber, stainless steel and aluminium.

They range from fabulous to funky to utilitarian, with prices to match. at the lower end of the budget and style scale are wooden plant labels – just like ice-cream sticks.

Yes, you could use real ice-cream sticks, but by the time you have made 50, you might be too fat to garden. you can buy them for around $5 for a pack of 50 – cheaper than 50 ice creams, too. Metal versions of these are for sale online at or at they’re called permatags, come in aluminium or copper, and sell for between $8 and $10 for a pack of 10.

You write your own information on them by “embossing” with a ballpoint pen. If not the last word in elegance, they’re economical and attractive.

For something a bit more creative – well, actually a lot more – have a look at they make their markers from vintage cutlery, pressing each piece with the name of a herb. Perfect for a funky garden.

If you want to be really well-organised and stylish, print a list of all the plants you require tags for, and send it to they’ll emboss the information (three lines,
25 characters per line) on anodised aluminium labels with a reinforced eyelet to the plant.

If you have an artistic bent and not too busy, making your own plant labels is a lovely way to pass the time. You may have to be prepared for a bit of trial and error to see what lasts the distance, but that’s half the fun.

Tiny terracotta pots make very cute, permanent plant markers, especially for herb and vegetable gardens.

Write your information on them with a marker pen or a black lead pencil, and spray with a couple of coats of
matt polyurethane.

Buy some polymer clay and craft your own ceramic-style markers. Shape the clay as you want, write the plant names into the soft clay and bake in the oven – it’s much easier than making scones.

If you want to attach your markers to a board or fence, put a hole in each end for screws. If they’re going in the ground, give them a pointed end.

Search your local $2 shop for wooden kitchen utensils – spoons, stirrers and the like. You get quite a few in a bag and they look a bit more interesting than your standard wooden marker.

My favourite idea is, typically, the most labour-intensive: make little blackboards as plant markers. Scrounge ply or hardboard off-cuts, apply blackboard paint and attach to a stake. Mark with chalk and seal with polyurethane.

Then there are old bits of tin or copper attached to wooden stakes or hung with copper wire, the lids off the cat-food tins hung on wire with a couple of beads, substantial twigs with a flat spot shaved off to write on... the list is endless.

If you’re short of inspiration, simply type “plant markers” into Google and select “images”. You will be astounded at how many ways there are to differentiate your beetroot from your basil.


Should you have fond (or any) memories of the “pet rock” fad of the 1970s, here’s an idea for you. Liberate that stash of river stones you’ve been wondering what to do with and bring them back into service as plant markers. Write on them with paint, pencil or coloured pen, then seal your inscription with polyurethane.

Next to the ride-on and The Partner, I’d rate the wheelbarrow as the handiest thing in the garden shed.

But not just any wheelbarrow. If you’re about to buy one, be prepared to check it out as you would a new car. We’ve had a lightweight, plastic wheelbarrow for ages, and while it’s great for shifting a few plants from one side of the garden to the other, it’s a catastrophe if you load it up with compost or gravel. The plastic flexes as you raise the handles to move the wheelbarrow, putting it off balance.

At worst it gets completely out of control, falls over and empties itself onto the lawn; at best it’s hard to push and you tend to compensate for that with your lower back. If you’re going to buy a new wheelbarrow, take it for a test drive at the hardware store. Put in two or three heavy bags of potting mix or similar, and wheel over some uneven ground.
If it handles like a lemon, look for a better model.

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