Before the days of aluminum and plastic, how did gardeners label their plants? What on earth did Thomas Jefferson and George Washington do?

Here are two 18th-century methods from Wesley Greene of Colonial Williamsburg:

“I have come across an interesting reference to plant labels in instructions from George Washington to William Pierce, his manager at Mount Vernon, written on Feb. 26, 1794. These instructions were meant to be relayed to the gardener:

“Let him number the papers which contain these seeds, and drive stakes with corresponding numbers by each kind, when sown, that he may be at no loss to know them: Putting the papers as is usual, in a split stick by them, is apt to be lost; or so defaced by the weather as to become, after a while, unintelligible; and then the name will be forgotten. By the method I have proposed this cannot happen. On the papers too may be noted the places where they are sown.”

“In a second letter written on May 18, 1794, he gives this advice concerning seeds recently received from Europe: ‘He should set boards by them, with inscriptions thereon, similar to those which are written on the papers, containing the respective seeds.” “

Pretty ingenious if you ask me, and quite useful in modern gardens, too! We’re going to implement this ourselves.