Keeping a Garden Journal - Take Two!

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

Some months ago I extolled the virtues of keeping a garden journal, not because I had ever done it, but because it made good gardening sense and I had read about it! I said in that article I was going to try it, and I did. I can tell you that so far, it is working!

About 2 years ago we sold our home of 10 years situated on several acres with the idea of simplifying. We wanted to take advantage of the real estate market and shed some of the work associated with many gardens and much lawn care - even though we really love doing both. As long as we continue to work at real jobs, we realize that too much of it at home leaves too little time for family priorities and travel opportunities we prefer.

Now we have made our home on 1/3 of an acre at Lake Meade instead of 3 acres on the Conewago Creek. It takes about 25 minutes for my husband to cut the grass; we have created a small shade garden at the edge of our property and foundation plantings surround the house. The driveway is lined with low shrubs and the sidewalk area is a work in progress that features a combination of annuals, perennials and a weeping spruce.

We are still in the process of planning raised beds for vegetables and a cutting garden. We may consider a pathway around one side of the house lined with flowering shrubs; it will cut down on grass to be mowed, add some interest and afford me another opportunity to "play in the dirt". That project is on hold for now, until time and energy allows.

It feels good to say that I made a plan and executed it to this degree, I can tell you. I am a short-term project planner; long term, things tend to just happen at the Hinkle house! If you are in a position to start a significant garden project, I recommend doing two things I have done for the first time since being bitten by the serious gardening bug 10 years ago.

During late winter 2006, I took a 5-week landscaping course at the Agricultural Center in Gettysburg to get grounded in the basics. Mary Ann Ryan and Audrey Hillman helped participants design a practical plan. We considered the value of keeping our already established plantings vs. the benefit new foundation gardens to be added over time. We evaluated tree species and their virtues as well as plants native to Pennsylvania that naturally flourish here. We each submitted soil samples to PSU to determine amendments to be made prior to planting as well as plants most well-suited to the soil conditions of our properties.

As a result of lessons learned in that course, we built a retaining wall at one corner of our newly graded lot to accommodate for a significant slope across the front of the house. Without Mary Ann's guidance, I would have been perplexed for years to come as to how to work that slope into any kind of curb appeal. Once I convinced my husband we needed to soften the look of that drop-off, he coordinated the effort with our builder and we are very pleased with the result.

I had a plan and was on a mission. A wedding in the family on June 17th would bring a group of 40 to our house for the rehearsal dinner. This deadline drove me to plan and plant with a vengeance. Thanks to the wisdom of Mary Ann and Audrey, I started lots of pots in early spring for color until permanent plantings become established over time.

The second learning I share with you beyond a good basic course in landscaping is keeping the garden journal. Favorite perennials and shrubs were "must-haves". I have collected lots of ideas over the years and it was time to give them a try. However, on 1/3 of an acre, I had to be selective. Each purchase was documented in my garden journal with the receipt attached for future reference. I spent more time this past spring in nurseries than usual to be sure my selections were just right.

As I made my choices, I noted in the journal where and when the plants were purchased as well as the garden location for future reference. When I moved my old favorites from the garden of a sister-in-law who stored them for me until conditions were right for planting, I noted what they were and where they landed so as to preserve them for posterity. As these babies begin to emerge in the spring, I will refer to my journal, being sure to plan around them, not plow them under!

Kind gardening friends and family members shared some of their favorites too; a good friend and neighbor delivered some of his favorite grasses, marked with botanical names, divided and ready for planting. Another gardening enthusiast and co-worker surprised me with giant astilbes from her Connecticut garden on a business trip to Pennsylvania!

So far, some of what I thought would be shade is more sunny than expected. I have already moved my weeping pussywillow tree because it promises to be crowded in a spot I knew would be just perfect last spring. I have proven what I already knew, that the best garden - even on 1/3 of an acre - is a journey, not a destination. I will continue to plant and enjoy, then change my mind and adjust. And when I just can't remember what is where or why I put that there - I have a resource, my journal, for reference!

While we have taken some good-natured ribbing from friends and family about the degree to which we have really downsized or simplified, I feel good about this next step. When our travels for work or pleasure take us out of Adams County, we don't have to plan for weeks in advance how to manage the work here at home while away. Every once in awhile as we return home to our little plot of land, we look at each other and say "I like it here, don't you?" The answer back is always "yes", thank goodness! I noted that in my journal, too. And as 2006 comes to a close I can say (and I know most of you will agree) there is "no place like home for the holidays" wherever home may be! Happy New Year to you all; Good Gardening in the coming year!

Read other articles by Kay Hinkle