Keeping a Garden Journal

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

For years, I have read about the value of keeping a garden journal but have not, as yet, been successful in starting and maintaining one. This year, I hope to turn over a new leaf and get the organizational skills necessary to not only make notes on various gardening activities but organize them in such a way that I can actually find them when I need them.

The first step is to create a space in my home office that accommodates this practice. Next, for a basis, I am going to use the documentation from this yearís Adams County Master Gardener Landscape Course offered by Mary Ann Ryan to kick off the process for creating files I want to journal. The format that I will use is still under investigation, but there are various ways to keep a gardening journal.

Some of us are shoebox journalists. We keep our notes in a shoebox in case we ever need them, and then may or may not be able to find them when we actually do need them. This method may very well work for some of us.

A bit more organized and admittedly, time-consuming, is the garden planner. This type of journal includes information and planning tools like garden layouts, visual references and detailed data on bloom time, requirements, color and design. Also included may be a log of activities and observations.

The garden organizer is more detailed in that it is grouped by plant type or location, by color or season, or by virtually any method of capturing detail that makes sense. In all honesty, this much more detailed method of documenting what we have and what we are planning is more of a commitment than I am willing to make, yet admirable for those of us willing to invest the time and effort.

And then there is the personal journal which is more of a daily diary than those described above. For each day we make an entry, we start a new line. Entries can be made daily, weekly, or as we get to them.

A photo album is a perfect way for gardening photographers to document the results of their work. A combination of photos and notes can capture size, color, etc. and allow for documentation of favorites to be included in our plantings for years to come. And then there are those, perhaps, not worthy of a place in our gardens ever again. Letís face it; not all of our garden endeavors are worth repeating. What gardener hasnít had a brilliant scheme in mind that, in reality, just didnít appear to be so brilliant when plantings matured?

The record keeper format of journaling garden events requires the highest level of detail to be kept on every planting in the garden. The record keeper documents complete details with all activities documented to this degree. This style of garden journal is most likely kept in a binder or on index cards in alphabetical order.

A highĖtech method of maintaining a garden journal is on the internet or via a specific software package purchased for this purpose. A journal of this type is available online at any time and many internet services are free. A template is provided by the service so that entries can be customized as needed. Software packages can be purchased that allow gardeners to view journal entries for each plant, in date, order, as well as a variety of other sort orders.

I would suggest recording the level of detail that makes keeping a journal a fun activity so it is easy to stay with the project once started. Those who maintain garden journals may have a jump start on the rest of us because they have already documented successes on which to build in future garden seasons. By capturing the details of what did (and didnít) work in the past, we can ensure that prior mistakes are not repeated and successes can be.

Think about recording planting dates for seeds and plants, transplanting dates, sources and costs of plants and seeds, guarantees and location of bills if needed. Also pertinent to a detailed guide are things like environmental events - weather phenomena like rainfall, frost dates and results. Finally, plant characteristics, date of harvest, date and type of fertilizer or other chemicals applied are great observations to capture for future reference.

While the purpose of the gardening journal is to improve gardening results, it should not drive us to turn something fun and relaxing into a project that becomes more work than pleasure. Not only does the journal provide documentation that serves to improve results, it also makes for a self-guided journey to gardening excellence. After all, we garden to improve our surroundings and fulfill our creative tendencies. What better way to feel fulfilled in our gardening than to organize these creative gardening tendencies?

Read other articles by Kay Hinkle