We can register, as our grandparents and great grandparents before us did, weather conditions, growth patterns, successful garden design, pest problems, bountiful crops of food and flowers and that once in a century hail storm in July. Recording our successes and failures in the garden brings consistency to our lives in a special way. It grounds our busy minds and ties us to the planet and its cycles of forgotten nature.
Benefits: In the Garden
Perhaps we should begin by saying the real benefit to keeping a gardening journal is spending time in the garden! A gardening journal can be about organizing your ideas, germination rates, plant successes and failures, climate, wish lists and planning diagrams.
Format: The Seed Catalogue
If you’re one of those die-hard gardeners that run a fever in anticipation of seed catalogues arriving in the mail, this type of journaling is for you. Likely, you thrill at the idea of trying new plants along with selecting beloved flower or vegetable favorites every year. However, relying on memory to remember the success or failure, even whether you’ve tried the flower or vegetable before, is a chore and a drain on energy better used in the garden itself. Whether you’re a backyard garden or small scale farmer, recording or charting plant information can be essential as well as pleasurable.
To remember what you’ve grown from year to year create a recording system of your own or try a simple method of gluing seed packets (or copies of) into a scrapbook format leaving a side margin for notes on the success or failure of the variety in your garden. Here are some general information tips you might want to include:
Rate your expectation of the plant or variety in easy to reference bold type: love, so-so, never again!
- Would the plant have thrived in a different or improved location?
- Water and sun requirements were perfect or needed tweaking
- Seed germination rates: strong, a struggle or a failure
- Was the plant susceptible to any disease or a favorite of specific bugs?
- Note cold temperatures relative to germination and harvest
- Include photos of planting the garden for a record of shape and habit
- Include photos of memorable bouquets you created from garden flowers
There may be issues pertinent to your given region or micro climate that you’d want to include. Don’t forget that a story or two about meals prepared from the garden or events where flowers or food from the garden brought joy to someone in your life.
Format: Garden Design
Whether you have a small or large garden, the joy of garden design is the same. Get inspired by some famous garden designers such as Gertrude Jekyll, Luis Barragan, Robert Hart, Fletcher Steele, Frederick Law Olmsted, Vita Sackville-West or Thomas Jefferson. Your local library or Friends of the Library book sales can be counted on for an inexpensive variety of garden design books.
Whether your redesigning an established garden or starting from scratch with a post construction, bare-earth site, figuring out what you want is the essential first step. Study books or engage the owner of a local nursery for advice on what plants are suitable for your area or zone. Consider water availability and cost, will the manual labor be yours or hired help, what is your budget, will you need an irrigation system , does the garden involve physical structures, paths, trellises or fences? Visit the nursery, go on some garden tours to develop your ideas, xeriscape or fern garden, habitat rich or specialty plant. Have fun!
All the while, keep a garden design journal tracking your ideas and decisions and referencing page numbers of photographs and information in books. Note varietals and plant sizes and habits. Purchase a journal format large enough to allow for scaled doodles or drawing of individual beds or areas. A final drawing on large sheets of paper will be required for the final design. Consider a subsequent journal to keep track of your design as it develops and matures.
Format: The Garden Observed
Remember with gardening or yard maintenance, it’s easy to slip into the all work no play mode that drains the enjoyment of gardening over time. If your love of nature lead you to gardening, consider creating a space that welcomes butterflies and bugs, birds, and small creatures, squirrels, rabbits, even deer or fox or a fish pond. Whatever thrives in your neighborhood. There’s nothing more satisfying than developing a mini eco system where fellow creatures can find sustenance and feel safe. It should be free of pesticides and herbicides to protect animal life and areas that need protection should be fenced. Bird feeders are a must. Hang as many as you can afford to supply.
A great benefit of this type of garden is the relaxed, informal style that invariably evolves, lowering the stress of high maintenance lawns and crisp edges. This means there's plenty of time for observation.
Find the perfect spot in sun or shade for a really comfortable chair. Create a kit to have with you: a pen or pencil, journal, I.D. books on birds, insects and small mammals in your area, binoculars and a camera. First allow yourself to sip a drink, relax your head and neck, letting yourself drift until you feel that you're absorbing where you are, not thinking at the speed of light about work, bills, family issues, etc. The more relaxed you become the more you’ll begin to observe. Writing down your observations along with whatever is on your mind is deeply satisfying and a wonderful reference tome not just for you, but for whomever might inherit your garden.
Great references for this type of journal keeping are the writer Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of the Woodcraft movement (inspired the creation of The Boy Scouts) and many books on wildlife, A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard and if you’re more in the mood for the greatest memoir garden book ever, check out Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi, a very original, funny and knowledgeable writer.