Monday, March 10, 2008

An Invaluable Tool: How to Keep a Garden Journal

Now is a great time to begin a garden journal if you have not already. I find the garden journal is an invaluable tool to help me keep track of my garden and plan for the future. I started keeping a garden journal about six years ago. Before then, I would keep notes at random on successes, failures, and sources of inspiration. These I would easily misplace and forget about. Keeping a regular journal is easy once you get in the habit of it.

Choosing the Notebook

Choosing the notebook is an important step because the journal has to suit the way you want to use it. Here are some suggestions:

1. I like the blank books with unlined pages. The unlined pages allow me to draw pictures, make notes, create list, and mock up future design ideas.

2. If you are prone to leaving your book out in the rain, I have found waterproof garden notebooks online at Acorn Naturalists (

3. As I always take my notebook with me into the garden, I choose a cover which will not show dirt easily. Frequently, it is right next to me as I'm plant bulbs or annuals, so I can quickly write down what I'm planting and where.

4. As you will probably want to take your journal with you to visit parks, gardens, and nurseries, the size of your journal should easily fit into the pocket, backpack, or bag you're most likely to carry. However, it should also be large enough to keep a year's worth of notes.

5. I avoid spiral bound journals. My first year I had a spiral bound journal which by September was in shambles.

Recording Bloom Times

I begin each January with a new journal. That way if I want to compare how spring looked and felt two years ago, I simply pull out the journal for 2006. At the back of my journal, I keep a list of what is blooming in my garden and in local gardens in my area. This way if I have a lull in the garden or if one part to season seems lackluster as it relates to color, I can look back to see what plants could fill in the gap. I wanted to plant my long border to peak in late August and September. By looking at my bloom record, I was able to choose plants which would peak then. Instead of relying on books and plant tags, I knew when a particular plant bloomed in my immediate locale.

Garden Planning

The journal also helps me keep track of what I plant and where. When writing about a plant, I underline the plant name so that later I can quickly locate notes on a particular plant at a glance. I note where I bought the plant or from whom I received the plant. If I see a plant needs division, I make a note of it for next spring. I sometimes find that plants will grow very differently in my soil which I record for future reference. The things to record are many: pest problems, times of pruning, fertilizer routines, weather, drought, vegetable yields, cultural notes, future improvements, advice from other gardeners, and great nurseries. If you love poetry or observing nature, this is a great place to put your poems and reflections.

In conclusion, keeping a garden journal is one of many enjoyable aspects of gardening. Once you get in the habit of it, you will love it.


Frances, said...

You are right about the garden journal being a must, however you do it. I started doing notes, like you and found it better to have the dates, weather etc. It has turned into kind of a diary, including births, deaths and other non gardening events. Then the digital camera came into my life and photos took the place of some of the entries. Then the computer crashed and much was lost. Back to the written word, along with the pix. I have to remember what happened as the notes don't come outside with me anymore, but the most important thing is that underlining the name of the plant when you are looking at old notes for the correct name. Love this post.

Frances at Faire Garden

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

My journaling is nowhere near as elegant as yours, but my chicken-scratch scrawls suffice to allow me to figure out what I've done, what's the normal bloom time for plants in the garden, & when the weather or critters have gotten the best of me. Having a written record is more personal & longer lasting than a computer journal. I hope that someday, after I've passed on, my children will enjoy deciphering my entries & remember when they were little & how I enchanted them with a garden.

Melanie said...

Good tips. Two weeks ago I gave all my students their own garden journal at their first class (Adult ed. gardening). Only thing is I bought the spiral ones as they were the right price. Hopefully they hold together.

Shady Gardener said...

What a great idea. Wish I'd have thought of it myself! ;-) I'm going to start right away... better late than never. Thanks!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Yep, I do a garden journal. I did an entire post about this.

I think one thing I read several years ago has helped me with designing and writing in my journal. I read that you should take your journal into your garden with you to write in it. I have found that I can quickly write down an inspiration that might otherwise might be forgotten by the time I get inside and settled enough to write. I have found my journal to be most helpful. I do need to be more organized with it but after all these years I doubt if I change much.

Shady Gardener said...

Oh. I thought I left a comment here last night. At any rate, a gardening journal is an Excellent Idea. One I will begin tonight! (Better late than never.) :-)

Nan Ondra said...

Excellent post, HG! After reading your tips and those from Carol at May Dreams, I'm thinking that I really need to try keeping a journal myself. Thanks for sharing this post for the GGW Design Workshop.

Search Heirloom Gardener


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