Herb Gardening Tips: Make Personalized Garden Signs

Add a do-it-yourself touch to your herb garden

| August/September 1998

  • Does your garden speak to you? There are lots of ways to talk back. These old garden trowels are entertaining plant labels, a shovel proclaims your whereabouts, and a painted rock ensures that you won’t overlook the spearmint.

  • Name that plant. It’s easy when you have a set of ­innovative plant labels like these. Flea-market finds such as wooden spoons and old silverware pop out of pots of culinary herbs. Tiny clay pots propped upside down on stakes (or resting on the soil of a garden bed) are a handy place to park that botanical name. Plant labels are also a good way to recycle metal scraps.

A garden sign is a versatile element in any landscape. It can provide information such as a plant’s identity or a garden’s theme, direct visitors to or through the garden, inspire the gardener and visitors with a favorite quote or proverb, even make us laugh.

I came to appreciate the importance of garden signs when my husband and I bought our current home seven years ago. I set about designing and planting a formal, segmented herb garden with a silver bed, a kitchen bed, a hummingbird bed, and so forth, but I soon realized that people other than myself might not know which bed was which. I needed signs so that friends and other visitors would know my interests and what I was trying to accomplish with each bed.

I suppose I could have bought signs at the nearest garden center, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to create garden signs that would reflect my own personality. I rummaged through the garage, where we stash all sorts of discards. Before long, I was constructing signs from stones, old shovels and other retired gardening tools, clay pots, remnant pieces of wood, weathered watering cans, even damaged picture frames.

To ensure that my signs add character to my gardens without detracting from the beauty of the plants or cluttering up the beds, I use them discreetly as accent pieces. A garden sign can be as simple as a smooth stone with a plant’s name painted on it. It’s not only more interesting and durable than a plastic stake, it also harmonizes nicely with the surrounding landscape. I find that cleverly designed signs tucked among the plants add an element of surprise to a garden bed; visitors discover them as if by accident.

It goes without saying that signs and labels also serve practical purposes. Gardeners for whom botanical names are important rely on signs to jog their recall of a plant’s proper name. A sign can mark the spot where a plant has died back for the winter. It keeps me from inadvertently unearthing it when I install additional plants or loosen the soil in that area. And labels enable visitors to stroll through the garden at their leisure without having to find me to identify the plants that are unfamiliar to them.

Materials and techniques

Although garden centers and mail-order catalogs offer ready-made signs, the selection is limited, and the cost can mount up if you need a lot of them. By contrast, making your own signs is easy, inexpensive, fun, and personal. Don’t think that you have to be an artist; you just need to know a few tricks.

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