Christopher Lloyd: Against garden labels

Christopher Lloyd |

Spring has come so very slowly to my gardens in Texas. Many of my little lovelies were nipped in the final, late frost, and I crawl around every day looking for any sign of life. Now I find that I am not recognizing some of the new plants. It’s like when I’m writing, and I come up with the best line ever. I don’t need to write it down, because how could I ever forget such genius? Invariably, of course, the lines vanish, as have some plant names. Which reminds me that I purchased a hundred-pack of plant labels last year…

Speaking of plant labels, I remain amused by the late Christopher Lloyd’s anti-label manifesto, published in the visitor’s material at his glorious East Sussex (England) garden, Great Dixter. (I visited the garden last year. Photos are forthcoming.) In the meantime, enjoy Lloyd’s beloved grumpiness:

The plants at [Great] Dixter are unlabelled. I know this is a bore, when you quickly want a plant’s name. Generally there is someone to ask. Here are some of the reasons for my not labelling:

  1. This is my own, personal garden; I do not have the obligations of an institution like a botanic or National Trust garden.
  2. I hate the look of labels. Like a cemetery.
  3. They are expensive in terms both of materials and the time needed to list the plants and to write and place the labels.
  4. Plants (as against shrubs) need labels that are stuck into the ground. The public removes them, the more easily to read, but does not replace them firmly or even in the right place.
  5. It is easier to pop a label into a handbag than to try and memorise it on the spot.
  6. The wrong label is read for the name of the plant to be identified.
  7. Visitors dart into the border, oblivious of footprints, the better to read a label that is out of reach from the front.
  8. If all labels are for that reason placed at the front, misapplication of names will be aggravated. Even when plants are clearly labelled, the public will still ask their name if anyone is around to talk to. They’re on an outing. We’re trying to work.

Christopher Lloyd

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