One of my very favorite shop products to letter on are my multiple styles of garden markers! But they started both as a completely random idea, and something that actually made no sense for little ole me to be playing with. Because, truth time—I can’t grow a darn thing (okay, except kittens). 🙂
See, the running joke with friends and family has been my lifelong Black Plague Thumb of Death™. If something requires any sort of tending in soil, it’s not going to work out well for me. My wax amaryllis and I are doing OK—since I don’t have to do anything with it—but when I decided to try lettering on garden labels back in mid-2018, it was a random thought I had while planting wildflower seeds in honor of the passing of a beloved cat. The turf just felt like it needed a significant marking to stand out in the desolate wasteland that is my neighborhood “yard” (aka dirt and ivy patch).
I had just started hand lettering and calligraphy before this happened, and with an uncanny urge to letter on anything and everything, I haphazardly lettered on pieces of paper that I sealed in plastic photo sleeves and stuck in the ground on popsicle sticks, next to the sprouting plant.
Now, that plant did grow for a year and a half after that—it only died because the maintenance person decided to pull it out, arg—but sadly, a couple rains quickly murdered my labels. Not the plastic covered portion, but the popsicle sticks ended up being too weak to survive consistently wet ground. I went on the hunt for various types of wood labels, and soon found bamboo to be sturdy and durable, plus, it sucked up oil paint like a sponge!
When I stuck a couple of the new model stakes outside with my wildflower plant, they took a beating like I couldn’t even imagine! The labels got dirty, of course, but that lettering held strong through a record rain season, and the stakes stayed where they were supposed to be for well over a year. It was only a couple months in that I decided maybe I should start lettering plant and herb labels for other people—who would be able to use them more often and for longer than I would, what with that pesky black thumb problem I had…
Wow am I glad I did! I am blown away by the gardens that I get to letter for around the world, and having been making these little cuties for others for about a year and a half now, I’ve learned some really cool things for someone who isn’t a gardener! 🙂
So, I thought I’d share some discoveries I’ve had while making herb and plant stakes for your beautiful gardens! Bear in mind, I’m not a gardener, so some of these might not come as a surprise to many of my experienced gardening customers—but hopefully you might discover a thing or two like I did!
13 Things I’ve Learned About Gardening Through Hand Lettering Plant and Herb Labels…
1. Gardeners are some of the nicest, sweetest people on the planet.
And most certainly that I’ve worked with in my life! I’m not even referring to the tender human part of gardening that comes with the care and maintenance of living things; overall, people who garden tend to be thoughtful, kind, and calm. I love working with my customers, but meeting this many people who put so much time and care into what they’re doing like my gardeners do with their gardens? That’s amazing!
2. Lots of people garden—but you probably don’t realize just how many enormous gardens people are growing around you.
I was raised in two households, and both had gardens that were pretty impressive, but sometimes the orders I get blow my mind. I see the standard garden of 5 to 15 herbs and plants often, but I’m still surprised at the number of people growing 40 to 60 plants at a time! Yes, this is a regular thing! How resourceful and beautiful, don’t you think? Be sure to take a look around you and see how many lovely things people are growing near you. 🙂
3. Basil is the most popular herb.
Well, at least as far as the 10,000+ stakes I’ve lettered thus far. In fact, basil is so frequently requested that when an order does not include basil or some variety of basil, I tend to do a double and triple take to make sure I didn’t miss it on the list. Also, there are around 30 varieties of basil out there! If you do a quick web search, you’ll be stunned to see how many more options exist than “sweet basil,” “Thai basil,” and a handful of the more common ones. I particularly liked this article I found after first lettering “Genovese basil,” because the author broke many of them down in detail. How many types of basil are YOU growing?
4. The most commonly misspelled plants and herbs are radish (“raddish”), tomato (“tomatoe”), and lavender (“lavendar” and “lavander”).
But, I am regularly looking up spellings when something new comes along—just in case.
5. Speaking of spelling…the spelling of “chili” varies by location.
In the U.S., chili has one “l,” but in the U.K. and Australia, it has two! (I am frequently looking up order origins for this one to be check if I’ve run into a misspelling or local spelling.)
6. “Rocket” is not just a ship that flies into space, but an edible weed that grows rampantly in Australia.
After I saw this one a few times, I of course started researching… As it turns out, rocket is the same plant as what we call arugula in America. I think I like the name “rocket” better…
7. The COVID crisis has created a flurry of new gardeners.
This is awesome! I heard from tons of new gardeners this spring, each of them trying something new in their time at home. Talk about a wonderful way to get grounded (literally) and find joy in the moment!
8. Gardening is scientifically proven to be good for your health and mental well-being.
These are facts, and likely why it got crazy popular when many were sheltering in place. I can’t tell you how often I hear how pleasant and wonderful it is to get “in with the soil,” or “out in the sun and with the earth” from my clients. Wouldn’t you know it, research shows there’s a reason behind all this! A fantastic article in Psychology Today talks about the mental health benefits of gardening, and this article describes a Princeton study that found how gardening helps your spirits! How neat is that?
9. There’s a beautiful crossover between cat people and garden people.
I can’t tell you how often I get to letter “catnip” or “cat mint” or “cat grass” and then I get photos of the cats loving on these particular plants. I’m a cat person, so this makes me super happy (especially since we know I can’t be trusted to do anything in a garden but decorate it).
10. There is a vegetable called “silver beet”…but so far, I’ve only heard it called this in Australian orders.
I had to do some research on this one because what on earth is a silver beet? Turns out, silver beet is equivalent to Swiss Chard, however, in certain parts of Australia, silver beet is referred to as spinach (versus “English spinach,” what we know in the U.S. to be spinach). I’d love to hear from people on this one. Any one use “silver beet” or grow up somewhere that used this instead of “Swiss chard”?
11. If you’re a big gardener or have moved across climates in your life, you know this one—but gardening seasons vary widely across the country (and of course the world).
This is particularly neat from where I sit, lettering your herbs and plants…because I can almost follow spring blooming across the country, as it’s happening! (“Oh! The middle Atlantic is blooming!” was actually muttered at one point in this home office, guys. No joke.) A wise gardening friend taught me this during the first year I noticed the trends, and it was eye opening. Naturally, I pre-ordered myself the 2021 Farmer’s Almanac because it is so sweet to learn about and watch in action!
12. Herb names (in calligraphy or otherwise) also look beautiful in languages other than English.
I have had orders in French, Spanish, and Greek, and I have to say, it is just stunning seeing these words in a new way. Plus, for any calligraphers reading this…it definitely shows how much the letters we write in calligraphy aren’t about the letters, but the 7 basic strokes being compiled in different formations. (I’m sure one day I’ll get into this in depth, but in the meantime, a quick web search will find you all sorts of tutorials on the 7 basic strokes if you want to find out more!)
13. And finally…gardeners are often very funny people.
My punny plant labels were not my wise idea—I was inspired by a custom order I received early on, and from there I had to add more garden hilarity in pots, signs, etc. Maybe it has to do with the earthy outside time, I don’t know, but I have had some of the most hilarious exchanges with my gardening customers. You’re all amazing!
So, there you have it—13 things I’ve learned and discovered while lettering herb stakes, and the lovely people who use them while growing pretty things. I feel so fortunate to get to work with others who grow such goodness!
Now I want to hear from you—what are more amazing things you know about gardening? Any new gardeners learn some things this year with their first seasons? Is there a gold beet root growing somewhere? 🙂 I hope you’ll share your gardening know-how with me!
Thank you so much for reading, and be sure to enjoy a little outdoor soil time!