Labels and data tags

In recent years, a few collections have begun to label their plants with near field communications (NFC) tags. These are small stickers that can be programmed to link to a specific web page. They are ‘read’ by using smartphone readers which are on most new phones – if passed close to the tag, the phone will open up a link to the relevant page.

NFC sticker on the back of an engraved label © P. Oostenbrink

If you are a garden open to the public, you will no doubt have come across the problem of interpreting plants to visitors. Large numbers of sign boards full of writing can get in the way of the garden experience and rarely last long before looking untidy. However, a NFC tag on the rear of a plant label can convey all this information to your phone, so you can find out more about the plants that interest you.

Philip Oostenbrink and Andy Boyton have both used this in their display areas, linking to webpages giving more information about the plants. The tag can be stuck to the back of a label, with a symbol engraved on the front to let viewers know that they can scan the label. Andy has been using to make labels with the NFC chip embedded in them. He has also been experimenting with tagging the plastic nets that his Narcissi are planted in, but the signal is not strong enough to work 6” underground. However, as the nets stay underground for 3 years and the labels on the top often missing, it is useful to have a back up tag attached to the net.

For ‘behind the scenes’ management of the collection, the tags could be linked to any web-based database, so you could set it to take you to the relevant accession page on a database. For example, if you use Persephone and are logged in on your phone and you scan the tag, it will take you to that page where you could add plant information, insert pictures or just record that it has died!

The tags can be bought cheaply from the internet (about 10p each on AliExpress or is a UK supplier).  Philip bought and encoded his own, using an app on his phone – apparently 90 tags took 85 minutes so it isn’t too onerous. Some companies such as offer to do the encoding for you if you supply them with a spreadsheet with all your weblinks but this works out more expensive, depending on the quantity required.

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