This month, plant propagator and general manager of Yucca Do Nursery shares with us why it's so important to tag our plants.

When I was a younger gardener I could put a plant in the garden, remember the plant name, where it came from, and all that I thought was pertinent information, without putting a plant tag with every single plant. Now, as I have "matured", I no longer remember the names and other useful information as easily or as accurately as I used to. It is not that I am getting long in the tooth, or that my memory is slipping, but now I have a lot more plants to deal with, and the information associated with an individual plant is ten times more important. It used to be that I simply wanted pretty things to grow, giving no thought of how more information could be useful. Now that the plants are associated with a business, information like where a plant came from, when it was acquired, when it was planted and other important facts become very crucial to weaving an interesting story. For a nursery like ours, the more information we can acquire and keep about a plant, the more information we have to convey to a potential customer. That is how we make a living, and plant tags are a simple technology that helps us preserve valuable facts.

Yucca DooHickey in PotAn individual gardener may ask, what could be so important to require using plant tags or markers in their garden? If a plant does well - then great, if it does poorly - then yank it out and put something new in its place. Simple, right? Well, that philosophy is sufficient if aesthetics are the only purpose for your garden, but for folks like me, data is a huge portion of a plants intrinsic value. Knowing about source, habitat, age and more helps create a rich story which, in a way, takes on a life of its own.

We typically put hard facts on plant tags like botanical name, the origin of the plant (wild collected, the nursery it was purchased from, or if a gift from family or friend), when it was acquired, if grown from seed or came as a plant, etc. But more than just this technical data is stored in just a few words on small strips of plastic and metal. Memories, experiences, and emotions are also attached to the hard core information. When I am in the garden, and I see information like where a particular plant was collected, I can instantly be transported to a place that is physically far removed from my present reality. Just seeing a notation such as La Pena on a sliver of plastic next to Agave montana instantly links my thoughts to the mountains of Mexico, at 9000' in elevation, surrounded by oaks, pines, Nolinas and Agaves. I am reminded of being chilled by the evening mists that dampened everything in the environment, the difficulty of starting a camp fire on fog and mist dampened tree branches and hiding from a group of drunken Mexicans that were roaming the countryside looking for a good time.

To a sentimental person like me, the information on a plant tag is not just cold, mechanical data like that stored and generated by a computer, but it also becomes a touchstone for memories and emotions. When I see the name of a relative or friend that the plant came from, I remember times spent with folks I may not have seen for years. Within the past several months, Dr. Thad Howard, noted bulb collector from Texas, and Bill Baker, renowned plant hybridizer from California, passed away. I did not know them well, and I doubt they would have remembered me, but with a quick glance at their names on tags throughout the nursery and garden I am instantly reminded of the experiences I had with these gentlemen.

Not long after reading, in a Cactus and Succulent Journal issue, that Bill Baker had died, I was viewing some plants in my collection. I was looking at a bromeliad that I got from him, and was taken back to 2007 in Tarzana, California where I shopped at Bill's Nursery. After hearing about Bill for years it was wonderful to finally have the opportunity to meet the man, see his hybrids and collection, and have the opportunity to select and purchase treasures from the nursery. The numerous tables and greenhouses were filled with weird, wonderful and interesting plants. Bill's Nursery, California Gardens, was similar to Yucca Do, in the fact that sale plants and his personal collection were often mixed together. So, for a shopper like me, it was difficult to know where the boundaries were. Though initially frustrating, the situation eventually became a sort of game or challenge in which a simple shopping experience took on more complexity and meaning. Would he sell this or that jewel? Should I continue to pester and asks so many questions? Would I have enough money to buy all of this stuff I picked out?

This was certainly not just a nursery where one drags a cart through seasonally adjusted isles of bar-coded commodities called plants, and deal with an uninterested automaton that mechanically rings up a purchase, then extracts your payment information and as you leave and says with compulsorily enthusiasm "Have a good day". This was an interactive meeting between likeminded plant enthusiasts, interested in plants as valuable living things that have stories of their own to tell. Though the plants purchased are certainly important, I think the conversations and interactions of the day take on more value with time. Though this sort information can't be written on a tiny plant tag, the information is still conveyed to me each time I turn a tag over and see Bill's name.

Though the information inscribable on a plastic or metal tag almost seems too minimal for use, and incomplete, it has significant meaning, whether technical or personal. I encourage everyone to tag their plant collections, inscribing whatever bits of data they feel is relevant to their gardening lives. Life is forever inundating us with information, making it difficult for us to remember simple but often important things. As we often do in other areas of our lives we leave ourselves notes - notes to take out the trash, notes to pick up the laundry and so forth. Though the notes we put on plant tags are not reminding us to do something, they do remind us of things of importance. Plant tags with the right information add value to ordinary plants, like old letters or a person's signature adds value to antiques and collectibles, making seemingly ordinary objects more valuable because of the provenance added history and story now attached and associated with them.

Wade Roitsch,
Yucca Do Nursery Manager