Labeling native plants can make wildlife habitats more appealing.
Plant labels add educational value to a drought garden in California.
"FOR YEARS, MY NEIGHBORS WERE UNHAPPY about my yard: tall native grasses and leaves left on the ground for winter,” wrote a National Wildlife reader in Michigan. “But last year, I put labels with scientific names in front of plants—and everything changed. What was previously perceived as unkempt lawn became a botanical garden.”
According to Mary Phillips, head of Garden for Wildlife™ for the National Wildlife Federation, wildlife gardeners often must take such steps to make their native plant properties acceptable to neighbors. The reason? “Traditionally, the ideal suburban yard comprised only meticulously manicured lawns and carefully pruned trees,” she explains. Plant labels—along with other signage such as NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat® sign—let others know your native garden is “intentional and has a purpose.”
In Ottawa, Ontario, gardener Berit Erickson also labels plants. When a cedar tree in her front yard toppled in 2017, she converted the lawn it had anchored into a pollinator garden that now features more than 50 perennial plant and shrub species, most of them native. Almost immediately, “we started seeing bees, butterflies and even birds we’d never seen before,” she recalls. “It was phenomenal.” Also remarkable: “We got nothing but positive feedback from neighbors,” Erickson says. Passersby were so intrigued they constantly stopped to ask questions. “I decided I wanted to teach them even when I wasn’t out working in the yard,” she says, so she added plant labels and put out a how-to brochure for other gardeners.
On her blog site, Corner Pollinator Garden, Erickson shares the process she uses to make “easy-to-read, durable labels” that include a plant’s common and scientific name along with its benefits to wildlife. “The most critical step is coating the labels with something to protect them from light, water and wear,” she says. (She chose an automotive clear coat her husband uses when restoring pinball machines.)
Beyond labeling, Erickson makes sure to work “within conventional garden design ideas” such as planting groups of repeating flower colors. “Wildlife gardens do not have to be messy,” affirms Phillips, who suggests additional what are known as “cues to care,” including well-defined edges and sculptural focal points such as birdbaths. Erickson also chooses plants that do not grow so tall they flop over sidewalks. To keep peace with neighbors, she says, a native plant gardener “needs to meet the public halfway.”
Laura Tangley is senior editor.
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