10 March 2013

The Art of the Garden Journal

 So last weekend I ran a garden journaling workshop, which was well received by the participants. It's the first time I've done this workshop, so it was a learning experience for all of us, but everyone seemed to come away inspired to do their best at recording their gardening experiences.

Why keep a journal? You'll learn from your own experiences from year to year. When should you start tomato seeds indoors? Which echinaceas did you plant last year? And where DID you plant those echinaceas You'll get to know your garden's soil, microclimates and other factors affecting growing conditions much better. You'll keep all your plant and planting information in one place so you don't go searching for it year after year. You can create an artifact which can be handed down to future generations, or, if you sell your home, to future owners of the home. You can track the natural world, from the blooming of the shadbush to the arrival of the hummingbirds to the hatching of monarch caterpillars. You're only limited by your time and imagination.

There are many different options for keeping a gardening journal. There are pre-fabricated journals like the 10-year volume in the first photo, a dandy item that came from Lee Valley Tools. The trick, of course, is remembering to update it faithfully. 

You may not find something exactly like the antique Garden Files folder in the above photo, but you can use a newer, less customized accordian folder and customize it to make it your own. 

What do you keep in your journal/garden kit? Weather notes, soil test results, food crop harvest times and yields, seed purchases and planting records, seed storage if desired (more on that in a minute), notes, tags and labels from plants and seed purchases, photos, a map of your garden...
 You may find it useful to have two parts to your garden records: a box in which to store seeds and larger tags, photos, etc is one important part. I am very, very partial to the gorgeous botanical-themed boxes that can be found at many home stores. Some of them have magnetized covers that hold the box shut. Others resemble books.
 A three-ring binder filled with transparent photo or card sheets is ideal for holding a lot of materials, including smaller tags and labels, photographs, maps, and regular journal entries. You can also include pages from garden catalogues, articles, a shopping/wish list of plants and plant supplies, and perhaps most importantly, warranties and receipts from purchased plants and supplies. Some nurseries offer a replacement warranty within a year, but you HAVE to have the receipt, and the plant corpse too.
 A dedicated photo album is useful if you want to hold photos together in one place separate from tags and labels.
 There are all kinds of ways to store seeds, and you may wish to have a separate box for seed packages and tins. Pill bottles work well for storing seeds, or you can get spiffy little watchmaker's tins from places like Lee Valley or beading supply shops.

The main things to remember about keeping a garden journal:
In order for it to be useful, you need to be faithful in making entries. Even making 15 minutes once a week will go a long way in keeping things organized.
Remember to write things down! If you see a flowering shrub in a magazine in December, put an entry in your wish list, because unless you're very good, you will NOT remember about that plant when the nurseries open in spring and you're flooded with all kinds of new information. Trust me on this.
Be honest with your record keeping, taking note of your failures as well as your successes.
Have fun with it. Gardening is a relaxing pastime, not a stressor, and keeping a garden journal ought to be fun and not intimidating. It's your garden, and your journal--customize to suit yourself.

What do you do for a garden journal?


  1. I use the same Garden Journal and usually include the day's weather before I start to make garden/seed/insect/ etc comments. It's fun to go back years later and look at the weather cycles. George Africa. The Vermont Gardener

  2. Some great ideas to help in keeping journals and records..thanks

  3. Also use the Lee Valley journal - keep weather info as well as what's blooming, what I did that day in the garden and observations for moving plants, etc.

  4. Hey Jodi ! A great topic & something we All should be doing in one form or another...but I as I'm sure many procrastinate with, especially the writing down of information & keeping it All together. I definitely need improvement !, but being a photographer, I'm constantly taking photos of my garden beauties, so this has proved to be at least a good visual record keeping ! Thanks for the great tips & I bet you've been busy mapping & making plans for those new garden beds at your new place...before & after pics are a must I think !...spring will be here soon enough...have a great day !....Bev

  5. I used to keep giant scrapbooks with plans and purchases etc., but that lapsed. I do have a number of old diaries in which I recorded what I did on any day + things like the annual snowdrop count. I was just thinking I need to do something that's a cross between the two, so your post is most timely :)

  6. I've been keeping a garden journal for years -- recording first snowdrops, first peepers, first pussywillows, and weather and plant issues all gardening season. From one year to the next I forget things, so it's not only an invaluable reference for gardening, but a wonderful way to look back.

  7. I've always intended to have a garden journal but...
    Thanks for these great tips. There may just be enough information here to motivate me to actually start one.

    BTW - are you planning to give any more garden journaling workshops? Maybe you'd consider the Tatamagouche Centre?

  8. Wonderful idea...my Dad has done this for many years, and when he could no longer garden, he now keeps track of the birds that visit it. :)

  9. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Debbie, I'm doing a shortened version of the workshop in West Pubnico at Ouest-ville Perennials on April 9, following my talk of the night before. If you live in the Tatamagouche area, I would suggest you get your local garden club to hire me to come in and speak, maybe to several clubs. I have never been to or worked with the people at the Tatamagouche Centre, though I hear great things about it.

  10. When I first started gardening I had a journal on my computer. Kept photos and notes which I still refer back to at times. I've attempted to keep the same system with my new garden but I've found I blog about my garden now and that tends to serve much the same function. I do hand draw maps of my veggie garden each year though to help with rotation. Love your ideas about boxes to keep plant tags and such in. I have an ever expanding ziplock bag that is getting right out of hand.

  11. Jodi i,ve been a plant hybridizer for over 30 years in Elmsdale n. s. & have finally produced a worry free rose for our maritime climate. Most are fragrant,thornless & unliked by deer. Huge clusters of repeat flowers on plants ranging from 2 to 5+ft. high or wide & from black to yellow , all shades of pink , white & purple .I see your speaking on new plants at the Holiday inn next month & would appreciate some exposour for this new plant . Thank you George 883-9244


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