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
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.