How to Keep a Garden Journal

Phillip Peters
Adams County Master Gardener

Discipline. 'Tis a harsh mistress. But she has her rewards.

This isn't something new, but it has particular meaning for a gardener trying to keep meaningful records of the garden's successes and shortcomings (failure is such a depressing term).

For Christmas my wife gave me a beautiful hard bound ten-year gardener's journal that she had ordered from one of the gardeners' catalog companies. It is a gorgeous volume, tome really, of some 542 pages with elegant gold lettering on the front and the spine of the dark green binding. It is called A Gardener's Journal - A Ten Year Chronicle of Your Garden published by Lee Valley.

Naturally a large portion of the book is devoted to pages where the gardener can record the year, temperature & weather for each day and notes on the garden's progress. Each page has space for the ten years on the same date. So by the end you will have a truly meaningful record of your garden/property as it progresses through the years.

This is far more than several hundred pages for recording ten years' worth of garden observations. It is a veritable encyclopedia of garden information with a wealth of data on everything from gardening basics to composting, pruning, tool care, design, hardiness zone maps, etc.

There are many sections where you can draw your garden layout, record soil test results and garden purchases, list your perennials and when you planted them, keep a record of treatments for insects and pests as well as fertilization, inventory your tools and keep track of their maintenance. There is also a section where you can work out your whole year's plan in advance month by month. All the sections are headed by a short article on how to use the section to advantage.

The big advantage with this volume is that you have ten years at a glance on each page.

Now you don't have to go to the expense of purchasing a special book to have a garden journal, although there are quite a few in the bookstores. At least one of these is specific to Pennsylvania gardens, My Pennsylvania Garden: a gardener's journal by Liz Ball, published by Cool Springs Press. I have used this one and it is most effective to help you organize your thoughts and preserve them in a very attractive medium.

You can also make a very useful and truly personalized journal with an inexpensive three-ring binder and some section dividers. I recommend a binder with a clear plastic cover that will let you insert a drawing or photo as well as your name and the year. The beauty of the binder is that you can personalize to your heart's content and you can always add items of interest in the sections that seem most appropriate. And, if you or a friend are into scrapbooking, this is a great opportunity to use your skills.

You will want to dedicate sections to your Garden's Design, Soil Test Results, Plant Purchases, Planting Dates for your flowers or vegetables, Harvest Results, and anything else you think appropriate for you.

Be sure to set aside room for photographs of each of your gardens or garden areas. Find plastic photo pages to insert in your binder. Try to take a photo of each garden area each month during the growing season to show the progress through the season. You will really appreciate this proof of your gardening prowess. In addition to photographs you can also save the empty seed packet for varieties you particularly like and that did well for you.

Be sure to include sections for What Worked and What Didn't Work. The What Didn't Work is probably the most useful record you can keep.

Another very useful addition is a Garden Design Schematic for each of your garden areas showing dimensions and plantings. Use a piece of graphing paper and sketch your property showing the relation of your house, garage and various lawn and garden areas. Then make sketches of each garden and what is planted where. Leave room on the drawing to add notes on observation about each plant's status. With photocopying you can update these each year, noting which plants are thriving and which died.

And don't limit yourself to photos and graph designs. By all means try your hand at personal sketches of your plantings. Use colored pencils and give drawing a try. You may be surprised at your results.

There is, of course, one element that this article and the garden journals can not provide, and your success depends on it, - DISCIPLINE.

You have to stick with it. Set aside a specific time each day or each week to update your journal. And if you miss a few days or weeks, don't get discouraged. You can always catch it up.

Don't be shy about taking a notebook or clipboard with pencil and paper into the garden with you. Make notes of anything that seems important. Or take your laptop!. Don't like to write? Try walking around the garden with a small tape recorder. I have one that uses micro cassettes. It fits in the palm of my hand and the push of a button allows me to enter my observations. Later I transcribe these to my journal.

Read other articles by Phillip Peters