Keeping a Garden Journal

I have been gardening for 40 years, and started journaling about 10 years ago.  I started with just photographs of my garden in full bloom, in different seasons.  It amazed me that I had not even taken a picture of my garden until that point!  It was sometimes the background for a family picture, but that was it.  I found those pictures comforting in the depth of winter, when I was dreaming of getting back out in the dirt, or thinking about new things I could plant and where I could squeeze them in.  I just printed out my garden pictures and taped them into a notebook, with the date written in.

But pretty soon I’d filled up my notebook, and still had trouble remembering the exact name or cultivar of a plant I loved, or where I had gotten it.   I’m kind of a willy-nilly plant buyer, I will buy something that I’ve never heard of before, or something that catches my eye, with no earthly idea of where I’m going to put it…and it might get moved 1 or 2 (or more) times before it settles in (or dies).  Then there are the “perennials” that look great and die down in the winter never to appear again.  I’ll notice an empty space in the spring and think ”didn’t I plant something there…..but what was it?”   I had to get serious.

My journal now fills in for my lack of memory.  This has been very helpful since we moved 3 years ago into a house we built and I had to start my garden from scratch (exciting but daunting).   I tried different methods for journaling (envelopes, small notebook kept on my potting bench, shoebox, pre-printed journaling pages, etc. etc.)  and I finally hit on something that works for me.  It’s a 3-ring binder with lined sheets, and I keep a sort of diary.  I note the date, and then make an entry of what I bought and where (common name and latin name if possible...important if you love a plant and want the exact same thing) , and then where I planted it .  If I move that plant, I go back to that entry and make a note.   Or, I note the date and what I did in the garden that day such as “added compost” or “mulched” or “edged side garden”, and maybe a note of some job that needs to be done soon.   I note and date mole or vole activity, damage by deer, products used and how they worked (or more likely didn’t).

Some of the pages are just lists of thoughts about the garden, to-do lists, or wish lists of plants, shrubs or trees I ABSOLUTELY NEED.  If I read about a new plant, or new color or cultivar, it goes in my journal.  Some pages are unlined and I do pencil drawings of possible expansions I want to do, since I will always need more room for new plants!   I keep those little plastic info tags that are stuck in the pots, so I wanted to include those in my journal.  Office supply stores have a wonderful selection of 3-hole punched plastic pages that I can slip those tags into….some are open at the top, or zip-locked, or separated into compartments.  This might work for you if you save seeds from your plants.   I find that my journal is getting too big, and I may break it into two binders, one for notes and one for tags.  I’ll have to put that on my to-do list!

So this is what works for me, and it helped keep me on track, or as “on track” as I get.  You need to journal in a way that makes sense for you, and in a way that will make it easy and fun to do -- not a chore.  There are ALL kinds of journals on the market, and there are journals made specifically for gardeners.  For those of you who want to go “paper free”, there are websites where you can keep your journal electronically (one is ).There are also lots of websites with free downloadable pages .  Just do an internet search for “garden journal pages”.   It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t even have to be neat.  No one will look at it but you.  So what are you waiting for?