Hartley Magazine

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Label Amnesty

Is it just me or do plant labels exist in a parallel universe? When you need some they are no where to be found, and yet they appear around the garden, like fallen tombstones seasoning the compost bin, the flower beds and the paths with a fine smattering of bright white plastic. Of course like most gardeners I reuse them wherever possible. Keeping last years and the years before that in pots inside the greenhouse. Regular crops like rocket, basil, broad beans etc. can be used again and again and again. Those that can’t be re-used, can instead be reinvigorated by scrubbing off the old varietal names and by using the back of any that have only a single sided use.

I had a phase of cutting up yoghurt pots and using the clean white inside surface to record the information for seeds and seedlings. That sort of worked, but some plastics perished in the heat of the greenhouse becoming brittle and breaking into shards that still exist around the garden. Then I opted for lollypop labels, smug in the idea that these would compost after use and be a more eco option than fresh new plastic labels. They worked for a while, but once wet the words became illegible and the labels started to degrade too quickly obviating the whole point. So now I am back to square one again. Plastic strips of white hard material and a permanent marker, which if I am honest is a laundry marker, as I can never find a pen that works for long enough and doesn’t fade quickly or dry out in the greenhouse environment. A soft 3B pencil or softer works too and at least that has the option of removing the pencil words at the end of the season.

Alternating with all of this, I like to write on the plastic pots themselves. It’s only possible if they are not black (unless you have a white marker) but it’s quite effective too. There’s more space to write, no risk of losing the label and the information stays with the plant, well until you pot it on of course. The only drawback is if like me you reuse your pots year on year. Permanent marker takes some removing so you either have to cross it out and use the other side next year, or put up with graffiti’d pots.

And yet I can’t help wondering why I bother. I can recognise the seed leaves of most of the things I grow, so do I need to label them? I always think that I’ll know what I’ve sown and yet although I can see the fat round cherub like basil babes bursting into growth, can I be sure if I sowed sweet Genovese or xxxxxx and indeed the date I sowed, the compost I used and what the phase of the moon was. I’m not being facetious, I do like to at least try and nod to the effect of moon power on germination and it’s great to compare their performance. It’s not a scientific experiment, merely satiating my curiosity. With memory starting to fail and recording information becoming more and more paramount to year on year success, I guess it’s time for a notebook or a modern computerized log to note every detail of what I’ve sown when, where and in what as well as the moon phase the astrological sign of sowing and the varietal information as well. I don’t know about you, but that seems to take away the enjoyment of sowing and growing, turning it from a pleasurable few hours in the greenhouse to a chore of school days proportion. I think I like my ad hoc approach to recording; it goes against my scientific training but it feels more in tune with the plants. I think I’ll keep the strict labeling for plants and compost on trial and allow myself to be a little more creative for the plants and produce that I just want to grow and enjoy. There are too many rules in gardening and I for one am going to break a few more this summer.