Saturday, 23 February 2013


It was cold at the plant centre, and I spent most of the day putting labels on plants.  That's about the gist of it, so the rest of this blog post is padding (or colourful incidental detail, depending on your point of view).

Most of the plants were shrubs which were delivered last week, and have been standing behind the scenes since then, waiting to go out for sale.  My first pile of labels were for plants outside the polytunnel on the far side of the car park ('the other side').  They were flexible plastic labels, each with a hole near one end shaped like a cartoon representation of a dog's bone.  Think Gromit's bedroom wallpaper and you've got it. Beyond the bone-shaped hole are two notches, one on each side of the label, creating a thin neck. You wrap the label around the stem of the each shrub, poke the end without a hole through the hole, and pull it until all of the fat part of the label is protruding, and the narrow neck is in the hole.  The label will now lie flat against its own folded-over end, and is relatively unlikely to come undone.  If you just vaguely poke part of the label through the hole it will soon fall out again.

I used to believe that it was not possible to do up plastic tie-on labels wearing gloves.  I now know this not to be the case.  If you do not wear gloves on a day like today you make quite rapid progress for about fifteen minutes, but soon begin to suffer severe pain, and after a quarter of an hour or so cannot move your fingers.  Gloves it is.  You work more slowly, but keep it up for longer, and if you watch what your fingers are doing, since you can't feel much through the gloves, you find it is possible to poke and pull as necessary.

You fasten each label below a convenient branching point or some evergreen leaves, and not towards the tips of unbranched deciduous twigs, otherwise it will slide off the end.  The manager's list of jobs for the weekend specifically mentioned this, and that labels must be pulled through fully.  I have been labelling shrubs for him for the past decade, but maybe he lacks faith in my ability to learn, or to grasp the workings of a label from first principles.  It is also necessary to attach the correct label to each variety, and to put one label on each plant rather than two labels on two different branches of one and none on its neighbour, but he left me to work that out for myself.

After a while one of my colleagues found the labels for some of the shrubs inside the polytunnel, where it was marginally warmer, and by way of a change I stapled labels to pots of herbaceous plants.  Then the boss printed off some more labels and it was back to shrubs outside the tunnel.  I gave up labelling at quarter to five, on the grounds that I was too cold and it was getting too dark, and my next step was going to be to poke myself in the eye.

There weren't many customers.  It's strange how all those gushing enthusiasts who exclaim in June what a marvellous job I must have, and how they would love to have my job, and even (in cases of extreme enthusiasm) that they would kill to get it, don't want to come and visit the plant centre in February, on a day when the thermometer is reading two degrees and it feels more like minus two due to the wind chill.

My colleagues did not actually say that they liked the coconut buns, but they ate quite a lot of them.

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