Garden Signs: Make Them or Buy Them?

Garden Signs: Make Them or Buy Them?

Make garden signs if you can’t buy them

Make your own if the kind of garden signs you want aren’t available to buy. But if you find garden signs you want that are available to purchase and seem to be durable, quality signs, save time and money by purchasing them. That’s my advice after leading garden programs for over 20 years and after investigating lots of sign-making methods and materials.

Making home-made garden signs encourages individual creative expression and results in unique signage that enhances garden ownership and pride. Some of your participants will enjoy making signs, some will surprise you with their artistic talent. And some won’t be excited at all. Good idea to have other activity options available that don’t take much prep, like nature colouring books, and a variety of gardening books and magazines.

Types of garden signs you can make

Plant labels, welcome signs, ownership signs, cute sayings and ‘please don’t pick the produce’ signs are just some of the possibilities.

Sign materials might include outdoor paint or permanent marker on wood, rocks, metal, plastic or found objects. Instructions are available with an online search.

Obstacles to consider in making your own signs

Downsides of making your own signs are that they seldom last long compared to the time and energy it can take to make them.

Julia, Therapeutic Horticulture Program Facilitator “I spent forever burning wood signs. It was way more time than I expected. The weather wore them out in a year and a half, so it wasn’t that long for the amount of time I put into it.”  Julia, Therapeutic Horticulture Program Facilitator 

Home-made signs benefit from a protective layer, which is usually toxic to apply. The prep and clean up are time-consuming and messy. And garden signs made by a group are usually of uneven quality. They take time, skill and a degree of perfectionism to make well.

If a sensory sign has only a funny shaped nose or something that might be an ear but you’re not sure, how effective will that sign be? Will people get stuck on the silly drawing (like I do?) rather than be drawn to do the sensory activity?

It’s possible to create a digital file of your participants’ artwork, and have your garden signs professionally printed. The one-time cost for setting up the artwork is worth it if you’re printing hundreds of signs, but expensive for printing only one or a few of each.

“I looked into getting a few signs printed, and it was so expensive! It’s more affordable to get them from you because you’re having them printed in bulk. That’s very helpful. Much more convenient to get them from someone who’s already done the work. Takes effort just to decide what material to print on.” Annette, Garden Program Coordinator 

Coroplast is an inexpensive plastic sign material, but doesn’t last well outdoors. Think lawn signs for real estate and elections. Meant to last one season and no more. Long-lasting substrates such as metal or composite materials are expensive but worthwhile if you’re buying only a few; these signs will need to be mounted somehow.

But I really wanted them!

I couldn’t buy the kind of garden sign I wanted, and I really wanted them. So, we made them. I didn’t think how long it would take, just how much I wanted the residents and their companions to feel free to touch the plants, and to do gardening activities whenever they wanted to, without having to wait for permission or instruction.

It helped that I had willing students and volunteers to assist. I was surprised when I added up the hours: it took about 54 person-hours to make the first set of 12 signs.

If you’re thinking about making your own garden activity signs… don’t do it! Save yourself a bunch of time and money by buying my signs.

Tara, Horticultural Therapy Garden Assistant, CHTA administrator “I like that they’re all uniform design-wise, the theme is so nice. I don’t think that I could recreate something that would look this good; I’d rather have something that looks really good, is long-lasting, durable and comes in a set, that’s what I’m looking for. For me, it saves a lot of time. The design takes a long time and the images would be challenging to do on your own.” Tara, Horticultural Therapist Garden Assistant; CHTA Administrator 

Yes, make your own garden signs, the ones you can’t find for sale. But if you’re interested in garden activity signs that invite sensory and hands-on participation, you’ve found them! You can support me in this budding business venture while enhancing the nature experience of your garden visitors. They’ll thank you for it. And so will I!

If you’d like to know more about the process of making the first garden activity signs, then read on…

Otherwise, click here to buy your garden activity signs.

'Listen for Me' attachable garden activity signSet of 12 plantable garden activity signs'Look Closely' garden activity sign

How we made the first garden activity signs

The process of making the original signs in-house demonstrates the time, effort and obstacles you can avoid by buying my signs instead of making your own. (Believe it or not, sales doesn’t come naturally to me; I’m stretching my comfort zone a lot because I believe in the value of these signs to connect people to nature.)

I had a vision of the residents benefitting from these signs and wanted to bring the signs into being. I worked extra unpaid hours to do this and other creative projects that inspired me and added value for the residents. Making the first set of signs was a labour of love that left me creatively fulfilled and financially unrewarded (but maybe you’ll buy my signs and I will be financially rewarded? 😊).

Designing and illustrating the signs

The idea of garden activity signs was in the back of my mind for years, without the time or the artist to move forward on the idea. When a horticultural therapy student who could draw came along, I suggested the signs as one of several potential projects to complete her training requirements and she chose it from the offered options.

I wrote down my ideas for each of the twelve signs, but with many weekly garden programs keeping us busy, it took several weeks before we sat down to discuss and begin the sign project. I shared my ideas with the student and she did preliminary drawings over the next few weeks. I made comments and she revised a couple of times. She did a lovely job and I was pleased with these initial drawings.

Touch Me garden activity sign prototype  'Listen for Me' garden activity sign prototype  'I Need Water' garden activity sign prototype

Translating English text into Chinese

Several Chinese-speaking volunteers helped by translating the English text to Chinese characters. There were subtle variations they discussed among themselves and I trusted their collective efforts. I learned from them that it was respectful to say ‘please’ on each sign. One of the volunteers had a Chinese keyboard and offered to create a final digital version, which was used on the first set of signs.

This bilingual set of signs was made exclusively for the garden of a long-term care residence where at least a third of the residents had Mandarin or Cantonese as their first language. Many of these residents didn’t speak or read English. I hope to create various language versions of the signs once the English-only signs are producing a profit.

Sourcing materials and assembling signs

Finding laminating plastic that was thick enough for the outdoors was challenging, but eventually I found some. I supervised the student as she printed the drawings on paper, laminated the paper and glued the result onto plastic T-shaped signs. (I’d ordered these blank plastic signs from Macore almost 20 years before and permanent marker had been used several times on them over the years.) The glue that held the laminated paper onto the signs didn’t last long in the garden and after trying two kinds of double-sided tape that didn’t hold well, I found a stronger double-sided tape for outdoor use.

The signs were so successful with the residents that I decided that printing a second set would be useful. 'Look Closely' garden activity sign prototype I asked another student to repeat the job of printing and laminating. It was then I discovered what an exacting job the first student had done, because the second student’s work was not of the same quality.  The paper was cut unevenly, as were the edges of the laminating film, and somehow glue made its way onto the surface of the signs, leaving behind a messy white cloud on parts of the signs.

All told, this project took several months to complete and encountered significant challenges with refining the artwork, translating the text, sourcing materials, making the laminated drawings adhere to the plastic substrate, and repeating the initial quality work of assembling the sign components.

Cost to make first 12 garden activity signs

A rough estimate of the hours that went into producing the first sets of 12 signs in-house:





 Artwork and layout



 Sourcing materials

 Assembling first set of 12 signs



If this time was paid at $15 per hour, the labour to create these first 12 signs was 54 hours x $15/hour = $810. Add $120 for supplies and the cost rises to $930 for the first 12 signs. Wow! Compare that with buying a set of 12 ready-made signs for a fraction of the cost, and think of all the time you save too!

The health and wellness value that the garden activity signs bring to the garden users is immeasurable. The signs have prompted conversation, curiosity, memories, and much sensory and physical activity. The signs are likely to encourage people to spend more time in the garden before going back indoors, and give them a sense of ownership, responsibility and pride in their garden. (Anyone available to do a research project to investigate the benefits of using the signs?)

The time and effort required to make the signs in-house was completely worth it, both for the long-term care residents and as prototypes that led towards producing the signs for market.

Garden activity signs: DIY or buy?

You could make your own garden activity signs, like I first did. Or take advantage of the work I’ve done for you and your garden visitors.

Once I decided to go beyond the first prototypes and mass produce the signs, I worked with a professional artist to create the final drawings and investigated many materials and production methods to offer the most economical, eco-friendly, and durable signs possible. We’re talking hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars to bring the garden activity signs to market.

My garden activity signs are available in twelve images and three types of signs, and can be bought as sets or individuals. They’re inexpensive for the value they provide, particularly in comparison with making your own signs.

So, yes! Make your own garden signs, the ones you can’t find to buy. But if you’re interested in garden activity signs that invite sensory and hands-on participation, you’ve found them!

Click here to buy your signs.

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