The ideal time for checking labels

I love this time of the year and for many reasons. Not only are spring bulbs flowering it is also the only time of the year when all labels are suddenly clearly visible!

Clearing the beds at RHS Garden Hyde Hall reveals a sea of labelsAs the gardeners work through the beds cutting back and tidying up they also display a sea of plant labels, and this is the ideal time for me to check for broken or missing labels before new plant growth starts to cover them. 

This year I’ve also taken the opportunity to check for bed labels. These are just as important as the plant labels as they indicate the bed number within a particular area of the garden. For instance bed number HD0101 tells us that this is a bed at Hyde Hall in the Dry Garden in the first section (area originally planted) and is bed number one.

Bed label at Hyde HallThe bed labels need to be as visible as the plant labels. This enables staff and volunteers to identify beds so that they can input the bed number onto our plant database in order to bring up a list of plants in that particular bed. Bed labels are engraved on a green background to distinguish them from the black plant labels. They are situated either at a point where beds are opposite one another, at a corner of a path or at a prominent end of a bed. We currently have approximately 145 beds and the garden is still growing.

To check for broken or missing labels, I work through each bed section of the garden one at a time, together with my volunteers. We make a note of the plant name and accession number - which can be quite challenging when the label is in two pieces and the other half is missing. However, I need only type in part of a plant name in the search area of BG-BASE (the RHS plant database) and I can get a report that tells me the full name of the plant and its location. 

Damaged labelLabels can be broken or damaged in all sorts of ways. Sometimes a large foot accidentally hits the top of a label and a corner will break off, excited little feet can trample them, a spade or fork may be aimed at just the wrong angle, or they can have a fight with machinery.

Even wildlife has a part to play in damaging labels; in the Woodland Garden I came across three labels that looked like they had served as a great sharpening tool for some beastie with sharp teeth or claws – maybe a squirrel or muntjac deer?

Replacing broken labels is an ongoing process throughout the seasons, but if I can get a head start now it will certainly help me before all those green shoots turn into a mass of foliage hiding all those labels. Then, my next task will be checking that the labels are visible from all the plant growth around them.

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