JARS v51n4 - Plant Markers With Memories

Plant Markers With Memories
Laura Kentala
Kirkland, Washington

At least once a year our ARS Journal runs an article on yet another way to permanently mark rhododendrons in our gardens. What amazes me about many of these ideas for tagging is that they either require expensive machinery, expensive accessories or a major talent to create them. Like most of us, I began my garden buying a few rhodies at several sales, quite positive that I would remember who each of them was. That was a short lived fantasy. Probably up to the first 50 plants I was sure I could remember, but then I was secure that the name would remain with the plant because each had a plastic marker put on by the grower. After each plant had been moved two or three times I forgot the names. It was two years later when I discovered the ink most growers used was anything but permanent, and the tags left to the elements were blank. So I began the investigation into something really permanent. My only other requirements were that they be inexpensive, readily available, require little talent and not that noticeable in the garden.
I have to admit that the final idea I settled on actually came from my mother-in-law. She had found the idea in Sunset magazine. She had tried to get my father-in-law to paint names of some of my rhodies on rocks for my Christmas gifts. He quickly decided that I had far too many rhodies for this project. When I got the idea from my mother-in-law I thought she had a pretty good idea, but since my garden is very sandy with little or no rocks in it, naturally I let the idea go. A rock source needed to be found.
Every year my family spends Labor Day weekend in a cabin at Kalaloch Beach on the Washington coast. This tradition goes back before I was born, but my first visit was only a couple of months after my birth. My parents and brother drove almost a hundred miles north from Aberdeen to stay at an old cabin. Water was hand pumped in, the stove was wood, and there was no electricity. I am told that all my diapers were boiled on this wood stove and hung on a line inside the cabin, since this was long before Pampers were invented. Through the years we have continued this tradition, sometimes camping, sometimes staying in cabins. The years have brought some changes, the cabins have gotten better and people have come and gone. Now my husband, Dave, and I have to come to the beach to end the summer in the traditional way.
Kalaloch Beach is a long stretch of smooth, sandy beach landscaped with high bluffs that lead up to the cabins. The Kalaloch River breaks up the beach and provides a nice safe swimming hole. Each year the driftwood logs change the design of the beach. It was on this beach four years ago that the idea my mother-in-law started came back to me. The rocks on this beach range from 3 to 12 inches long and tend to be oval in shape. Probably the best part is that the ocean waves have made the rocks flattened and smooth. This makes them ideal for writing on. That first year we loaded the car up with enough rocks to cause many loud complaints from my husband. But I managed to get nearly 40 rhodies named. Each year since we have brought home many more, even the year I broke my foot and had to beg my family to bring them up from the beach for me. I still have many rhodies without rocks, but each year we will add more to the garden. Every time I walk through my garden they are wonderful reminders of my family and the wonderful times I have spent on that beach.

Rocks at Kalaloch 
Beach, Washington
Rocks at Kalaloch Beach, Washington, ranging from 3 to 12
inches long are used as non-destructible plant
markers in the Kentala garden.
Photo by Laura Kentala

One of the best parts of this tagging plan is that the main component is free. I have used paint, oil based, to put the names on the rocks. The reason for the oil base paint is that first we had a can and second I felt that it would withstand the weather. I chose black for easier reading and for blending in with the landscape. The rocks can be turned to show the names or turned over to hide the writing. My husband being the great do-it-yourselfer had to experiment with the original idea. He found a wonder tool, the Dremel. This tool actually cuts into the stone, making the names very permanent. So there is an alternate method of writing on the stone. Another benefit to this method is that your stone will never be carried away by the birds. And fall leaf raking seldom moves them from their place.

Kentala garden with rocks used for 
plant labels written in oil based paint.
Among the leaves in the Kentala garden are unobtrusive rocks
from Kalaloch Beach with plant labels written in oil based paint.
Photo by Laura Kentala

Drawbacks to this plan? Yes, there are always some. You will have to go searching for your own rock source. This may take some time and energy but well worth it. They can be bought but these will not hold any memories. The second one I have found is that you must remember to move the stone along with the plant when you transplant.
The best part of this plan are the comments I get as friends and family tour through the garden. They always seem to notice the rocks and enjoy the story of where they came from.

Laura Kentala is District Director for ARS District 2.