The influence a label can have on purchases made in the garden centre is well recognised and has driven innovation in terms of label design. Bigger, bolder, brighter, eye-catching, something different that stands out from the crowd - this is what is it all about. But not gimmicky and not gaudy. There has to be a balance.
"It's a matter of personal preference really," says Bamboo Print director Duncan McLintock. "Some people will come up with ideas that are more 'out there' and others will be more restrained in the belief that it gives more credibility. But it's also about trying to strike a balance between being different, standing out from the others and being authoritative."
Many purchases are made on the basis of a promise - the image of the plant when it is fully grown or flowering. "To me, the focus should be on a high-quality professional picture - a striking image that is accurate and shows exactly what the plant is," states Hortipak creative director Philip Mabon. "The image should be supported by clean, good design. It has to have impact."
Key role of images
Graphics and photographs are important. They make the brand statement as well as the promise of what the plant will do. They must be accurate in variety portrayed and in colour. But the back of the label is now considered equally important.
"The back of the label is the new front," suggests Floramedia UK managing director Nick Mathias. "A lot of thought and effort is now being put into the back of the label - not just into the appearance and how well laid out it is but also into the information and how that information is structured."
With limited space and so much information to include, it can be hard to decide what to put on the label and what to leave out. More than a decade ago, the HTA produced a code of practice for plant label identification - a valuable document for deciding the relevance of common versus Latin names, plant habit, hazards, plant breeders' rights and details ranging from period of flowering through hardiness ratings to pruning requirements. But the last thing you need is to end up with the reverse of the label looking more like block printing from an encyclopaedia.
"I think it is important to have full, accurate, detailed cultural information," says McLintock. "Accuracy in terms of height and spread, the position to plant it in and basic aftercare, all squarely aimed in the middle of the market. It needs to be intelligible so the purchaser understands how to care for the plant and gets the best possible experience from it."
A bespoke-only provider, Bamboo Print tends to write the information for its customers. "Lots of customers, if there is room, like to see history and provenance details too," McLintock explains.
Accurate plant identification is obviously essential, but then do you give dominance to the English name or the Latin name? "There are instances where people want to lead with common name. Herbs and wild flowers, for instance, often give the common name star billing but with some herbaceous it would be the other way round - and particularly if the retailer or grower is selling into the top end of the market," McLintock points out.
Information about hazards should also be included. "It's very important but can be quite complex because it may only be one part of the plant that could cause sneezing, a skin irritation or be deadly poisonous," says McLintock. "We try to ensure those warnings are on the label and not tucked away in six-point type as an afterthought."
Designers strive to give their labels the right balance of showiness, elegance and an air of authority, but it is also important to recognise that the market is constantly changing. Trying to appeal to younger gardeners is having an effect on the type of information as well as how it is portrayed.
"To try to engage younger people into buying plants, we have to equally engage in the right method of talking to them and formatting that information in a way that is easily used," says Mathias.
Mixing text and icons
"They are used to tweeting, where they have 140 characters to play with. Everyone is used to reading much shorter things and we are much more used to using symbols and icons on phones and tablets. In our marketplace now there is much more willingness to mix text and icons together in a better laid out label. We are increasingly doing work on that front and building content for customers that has meaning on the label and also on their online services and in a more broad sense."
The popularity of the smartphone has seen retailers and growers rush to include QR codes on labels, the intention being to provide further information and added value. But it is something that has to done carefully. McLintock explains: "The trick is to give the customer something more than they get off the back of a label. They shouldn't find that it leads to a site that is just a re-statement of the label or a site that hasn't been updated in years."
There are many good examples, such as Hawkesmill Nurseries' wild flower collection. Scan the label's QR code and it leads to a website packed with information about creating meadows and wildlife gardening. On the continent there is also greater use of video clips.
Mathias confirms: "Video links are being used more in Germany, France and especially Holland, but we have also done some for UK customers. It is very much a service we provide and comes under the umbrella of creating content. For us, content is about images, plant parameters, descriptive text and videos."
Once the design is complete, it is on to the printing process. At Ryedale Printing Works in Yorkshire, home of Hortipak, work starts in the studio, where up to 15 Mac designers help to proofread, produce artwork and design products. Colour management is controlled electronically and it is from here that the Nova Picture Library - the worlds' largest horticultural image library - is accessed. Hortipak is the UK and Ireland license holder.
Downstairs in the warehouse, bales of plastic sheeting arrive. Being cold in the centres, each stack has to be warmed before use and de-ionised air blown through to remove static. After printing, varnishing and curing, the sheets are fed through a cutting machine, 50 at a time, and are then "cracked" out by hand. Up to 40 people can be employed to crack the labels out of the sheets. Elsewhere there is a stringing machine to thread cord through tie-on labels at a rate of 5,000 per hour.
As well as a bespoke service, Hortipak offers a stock range - picking, delivery notes and stock control all managed from a handheld device. It also offers point-of-sale and market solutions including posters, banners, bed cards and bench edging. A new product is the non-tear lightweight pot wrap.
"A hard-wearing alternative to paper pot wraps, the 180 micron plastic wrap is light, versatile and very strong," says Mabon. They are printed using the same lightfast and water-resistant inks as the labels to give the same excellent print quality.
"They are designed to withstand watering and the weather," he adds. "They can be designed to the shape of any pot and are delivered flat, the non-tear wrap being easy to assemble on site, but can also be pre-assembled and delivered stacked if required."