“Signs, Signs, everywhere there’s signs,
messin’ up the scenery, breaking’ my mind.”
(The Five Man Electrical Band)
Public gardens welcome curious visitors from all over the world. They enter eager to learn about the land, plants, trees and rocks of a particular place. Many gardens proudly highlight the entrance with an eye catching sign, often nestled among a beautifully landscaped bed of flowers. Once inside, posted signs act as the voice speaking directly to visitors. When it comes to signs everywhere, some are creative offenders and a few are just plain offenders.
Signage reflects the mission and attitudes of the garden as does the Alfred Nicholas Reserve outside Melbourne, Australia where a sign proclaims “Healthy Parks Healthy People.” Others say to visitors “Please walk among the roses” or “Picnics Welcome Here”
In Tacoma, Washington’s Ft. Defiance Park a sign tells the story of Ebenezer Roberts. As the newly appointed Superintendent of Parks in 1890 one of his first acts was to pull up all the “keep off the grass” signs and instruct his crew to burn them. He wanted visitors to fully enjoy the grounds.
Some gardens fall short of welcome by greeting visitors with a long list of things you must not do. I found this garden (named for a widely revered American humorist) empty of visitors on a perfect summer day. I wonder why?
I recognize that gardens and parks differ in purpose and care required. As a passionate plant lover I naively assume everyone will walk with gentle respect. It is reasonable for gardens to gently remind visitors of the best behaviors for the protection of the plants. This can be done in a positive manner like the sign in the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney Australia, or the “Domain.” There you are greeted with:
Lively games and large parties are best accommodated in open spaces of a park field.
In some cases the reminder requires much stronger wording to get the point across. I found this wire cage and emphatic signage in a garden near a university in British Columbia. Seriously who goes out to kick and punch trees?
A gentle caution “Please don’t fly kites,they get stuck in the trees” helps provide a guideline with reason. This is the way we have always liked to be cautioned ever since the first parent in our lives said “No,because I said so.”
Some say that signs in gardens take away from the landscape and spoil the beauty of their photo. While that may be true, so much of the signage in public gardens helps visitors appreciate and understand what they are seeing. This signage is frequently bilingual, if you speak Latin and English. Certainly this is an area where gardens could make efforts to provide additional translations for visitors. Reliably around the world garden plant name signs provide a common name, a location of origin and the Latin classification. The world of horticultural classification may have scientific debates, but it has no borders. Today we have our digital cameras at the ready to snap a photo and return home to our local nursery to secure that plant for our garden.
Some gardens like the Dallas Botanical provide garden tips, such as directions for when to prune Azaleas, the history of medicinal plants or cultural significance of a tree planting. One of my favorite signs distinguished the differences between a damsel fly and a dragon fly, appearing just at the moment I wondered aloud of the distinction while wandering in the Chicago Botanical Garden. I particularly like “Ground under repair” as an explanation for why a section of garden is without planting. I‘d like one of those signs in my garden!
Gardens seem to be a wonderfully protected space, yet danger seems to lurk around every curve. Gardens are rightfully concerned about their visitors’ safety. Some cautions seem amusing such as the “Caution Hose Crossing Path Way” or “Caution Lake Edge” and my favorite “Beware of Cactus.” I was baffled the first time I saw a sign warning of “tree failure” but over the years I have seen many warnings about things falling from trees. Trees do drop their limbs, their pine cones, (which can weigh as much as 30 lbs.), as well as cannonballs and coconuts.
I’ve seen many signs in my garden travels and all of them point me to more garden visits, despite the risks. For me, gardens hold a promise of great delight as signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs speak to me during my visit. I’m on my way now as I’m sure there will be frogs, right down this pathway!
Published also as a Guest Rant on Garden Rant!
& on Garden Design newsletter as a blog we love
& Maricopa Master Gardener Newsletter Roots & Shoots Newsletter http://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/mgcentral/uploads/roots-shootsOctober2016.pdf