Plant labels function as our footnotes in the garden. Although practical, reminding us of what is planted where, labels also are expressive of style. They help mark out the garden's concept and organization. They give it history, continuity and direction.
Not everyone needs or wants labels popping up everywhere in the garden, but when an interest in roses, lilies, irises or anything else blossoms into a real collection, labels are indispensable. Should your garden be on a tour, legible labels give visitors a chance to ask something besides "What's that?" and spare the gardener the chore of constantly spelling Dicentra spectabilis.
Labels do more than identify plants. They mark the locations of dormant perennials so you can work around them in early spring. The message "red tulips here" on a label in a friend's garden reminds her exactly where to plant her bulbs the following fall.
At arboretums and botanical …