I Don’t Talk To My Plants…

Travel writer Pat Richardson shares the pleasure of her own little corner of heaven to come home to

I don’t talk to my plants …but I do know them all by name. And that’s because I keep all the identification labels that come with them. The care instructions these little plastic signposts carry may be very simply conveyed in ‘horticultural hieroglyphics’ – a branch with leaves, a pair of open-jawed shears, and a Roman numeral telling you when to apply the latter to the former and close the jaws, i.e. prune. You get the picture?

Of course, we may need a lot more information if we are to give our plants proper care throughout the year, and we can find everything we need to know in a good gardening book – if we know the names of our plants. You’re probably wondering why I don’t just use white plastic plant labels and a permanent marker pen. It’s because whenever I’ve done this – name on one side and Cut back in Feb or whatever on the other – the writing wears off in no time.

Instead, I keep all those original identification labels, in an A-Z concertina file. Clever? Eventually, yes – but only after I devised a system. Filing something alphabetically – let’s say a bacopa – only works if you already know its name, or at least remember that it starts with B. So, instead, I grouped the labels into more general categories and filed those alphabetically: C for climbers, R for roses, and so on. That worked – but then I had a better idea. I gave each section of the garden a letter – P for patio pots, C the cottage garden bed, W the woodland garden, F climbers on the fences – and put the relevant plant labels in the same pocket. That works even better.

There’s another strand to my system, for which I use an old diary – the sort that works for any year, and I use the same one every year. When I buy a new plant, before I file the label, I note in the diary in which month it needs pruning, for example.

Last Christmas, I was given a Gardener’s Notebook; I’m gradually transferring my care notes from the dog-eared diary into this. It’s early April now and I have a note of all the jobs I need to do this month, precisely tailored to the plants in my personal plot – unlike any other garden reference book. You might like to try it, next time the weather stops you getting out and gardening.

Pat Richardson has many years experience as a travel writer including 16 years as Travel Editor on Best Magazine. She has since turned freelance and writes mainly for the Daily Telegraph’s Escorted Travel and Cruise Supplements. As well as tending her own delightful Kew garden, she runs www.perfectlyworded.co.uk, a writing and editing service and consultancy, and www.HotelsThatWereNot.com, a website showcasing properties with a past.