By Sam Webb
Normally I don’t use plant labels, unless it’s the label that came with the plant when I bought it. That is, until a visitor to my garden criticized, “What’s with all those ugly labels?” I thought to myself, “Just great, now when I look at my garden all I’ll see is ‘Ugly Labels’. That is, unless I do something about it.” That something is to make the effort to properly label the herbs using their botanical and common names. I’m retired now and have the time. Do you think the great gardeners of a hundred years ago worried about plant labels? Probably not, but the plant collectors would have; it’s part of collecting to know the names of the objects of your collection, document their acquisition, and most of all, to fill in what’s missing and acquire more.
I started the label project by going to my local botanic garden to see what their plant labels were all about. Their labels (see photo above) have all kinds of information on them. In this example, the family name (Rubiaceae) is in one of the corners and in another corner, the country or region where the plant originates (Europe, N Africa). In another corner is an inventory number (2010026.7) that corresponds to information on file as to the date of acquisition, who acquired it, its location in the garden, and other facts about the plant. In the middle is the botanical name (Galium odoratum) and the common name (sweet woodruff). Sometimes there is a short description of the use of the plant, an anecdote or folklore at the bottom.
So far so good. However, my penmanship is poor so I use a label maker with metal tags for my herbs. My labels only need two things: a botanical name and a common name. I am also lucky that I kept the names of all the herbs in my garden. If you didn’t do that or don’t know at least the common name of any herb, labeling it may take more research. Use your HSA membership and ask. Most members love to help out other members.
Additionally, the botanical name is always expressed in Latin and is accepted worldwide, but there is so much more one can do with the common name, like add the foreign translation to the label. I like to grow the Herbes de Provence, so I can use sarriette d’hiver for winter savory, and so forth. My pickling herbs could be in German, such as Deutscher thymian for German thyme. I could keep going but you get the idea of all the possibilities.
Sam Webb has a BS in Ornamental Horticulture from Delaware Valley University. Retired from 25 years with Federated Investors Legal Department, Sam has spent most of his free time volunteering at three local institutions, the Carnegie Public Library’s Community Gardens, Carnegie Museum of Natural History- Botany Department and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. He is a member of the Herb Society of America.