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In the News

Garden Journals – Every Garden Deserves One

Suzanne White

As a gardening novice starting the task of turning my pitiful yard into a peaceful

garden, I quickly realized that I couldn’t remember all of the details all of the time,

and that details in a garden account for a lot.  So I began to keep records by

writing things down.   At the time I did not know that my record keeping was

forming the rudiments of a Personal Garden Journal or that this activity is an

ancient and noble one.   It was later that I learned the written word is believed to

have developed from the desire to keep records.

As I got further into all things horticultural I became interested in the garden

journals of others.   Who were these gardeners and what did they write about

their gardens?  In exploring published garden journals I learned that everyone

has their own approach and those range from the garden variety to works of

art.  Midge Ellis Keeple, a very nice English lady, kept a humorous journal that

was started with her account of a shovel that mysteriously and magically

appeared in her ragged backyard.  Thomas Jefferson scribbled erasable field

notes and later edited and copied them into his now famous garden and farm

books.  The French Impressionist, Claude Monet, left detailed notes in the form

of instructions for his well-known garden, Giverny, the subject of many of his

famous paintings.  As a result, his garden lives on today.  

 From my own School of Hard Knocks I learned that garden journals should

include the basics of who, what, when and where.   Note the first and last frost

dates and those for planting seeds or transplants.  Record bloom and harvest

times as well as all plant names.  Include a map, no matter how simple, of plant

locations in the landscape and keep records of temperature and precipitation.  

From this point a personal journal can be fleshed out to include other useful

information, such as seasonal chores and observations, pruning, fertilizing and

watering schedules, pest emergence and treatment dates, flower or vegetable

bed size and spacing measurements, dates for sunlight length, supplier notes,

any guarantees or warranties, costs, reference materials or photographs.   The

list can go on.

Whatever the depth of information, a garden journal has to have style and there

are a few acknowledged approaches that depend on personality and effort.   One

approach is “The Organizer”. This person needs the data shuffled, sorted and

ordered, not by sequential date, but by personal preferences like type or location,

color or season.  “The Planner” wants all the facts and wants them detailed to the

max.  Planners thrive on maps, plots, site readings, lots of visual references and

go-to materials.  Then there is “The Resourcer”, the one who needs the page and

the parcel.  As well as a want of the written account, there is a need to store the

collected valuables: the saved seed packets, dried blooms, bills, receipts, plant

tags, and garden souvenirs.

 The recorded information can have its own style.  There are those who record

“Just the Facts, Ma’am“, no matter how detailed or organized. Then there are

those from the “Reflective Discourse” school of journalism.  They too keep the

important data, but, often using diary-like entries, their journals also express their

inspirations, thoughts and dreams.  They include things like poems or compiled

reading lists and wish lists and recipes for their garden’s harvest.   No matter

which recording method the personality leads to, personal style can also be

expressed in how one stores their information.

Pen and paper are still popular, and some folks keep folders, binders, notebooks

and index cards of all form and fashion.  Some bind their own books while others

purchase journals that range from simple to sophisticated. There are those who

embrace the machine age and put it all in cyber-space with on-line garden blogs,

or buy computer software designed for garden journals or utilize the word

processing or spreadsheet programs built into the computer.

No matter how busy one gets creating and maintaining a garden, the time used

to record the facts of its cultivation is time well spent.   The value of that garnered

information is that old mistakes can be avoided, successes repeated and you can

see how much you have learned and how you learned it.  The beauty of a garden

journal is that there will never be another just like it.  Its maker has addressed the

ancient desire to record an accounting, and as a result created something

uniquely personal.


SIDEBAR: Reflective discourse from the garden:

*Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade.

*Grow where you are planted.

*You can bury a lot of trouble digging in the dirt.

*The grass may look greener on the other side but it still has to be mowed.