Four Reasons It’s Fun to Keep a Garden Journal

SEP. 11, 2021

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Have you, like me, wandered through your garden and paused over a lovely plant, blooming courageously in the summer sun, and wondered what it could possibly be? It has a name; it’s vaguely familiar, but what is it called? Have you, like me, visited a friend’s garden, admired his glorious flora, jotted down names on the back of your grocery receipt, gotten home, and found you’d lost that wrinkled paper? Have you leafed through a magazine or nursery catalog and come upon the absolutely perfect flower or shrub for that problem corner of the garden—then misplaced the magazine or lost the catalogue page you’d torn out? I have! 

Well, dear Reader, I have a solution to these perennial problems—keep a Garden Journal. They can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. There’s no need to feel stressed about writing in it with any specific consistency. You can use it when and where you choose, and it will last as long as the pages hold out—then you can begin Volume Two. Perhaps you’ve seen copies of the Victorian Ladies’ Garden Journals. They are charming collections of poems about gardens and weather (some copied and some original to the lady) and sweet watercolors of the flowers, birds, and fountains. They sometimes hold dried specimens—pressed flowers and leaves. Friends’ comments and quotes. They’re quite original and fun. 

You may find it useful and satisfying to begin your own journal about gardening in general and your own garden specifically. You have very little to do to get started. Select a type of blank book that has sturdy covers and fairly roomy pages. You’ll want paper that is not too flimsy—you can expect the odd glob of mud and rain drop on the pages. You could design some type of cover that pleases you—a collage of pictures from your garden or a simple label with your journal’s title and date.

There are lots of uses to which you can put this sturdy book. You needn’t limit your journal to one focus only. Think of the journal as your companion in gardening. Whether you do most of the work yourself or supervise the gardener or gardeners, there are lots of details and even broad concepts to keep track of. Let me talk about just some of them.

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1. Practical Pages

Some portions of your Garden Journal may be committed to such useful information as:

• The season’s budget, with cost of labor, weed treatments and fertilizers, prices for plants and seeds, new and replacement equipment.

• Glue an envelope onto one page and slip your bills and receipts inside. No need to calculate them. You’ll know where to find them, should the need arise to look back over past charges or disputed invoices.

• A “Wish List” of items you want for your garden: art work, a fountain, fencing are some examples. If you know the prices, you can jot them down for future reference.

• Glue an envelope on another page to hold business cards and business addresses you’ve cut out of the paper or a magazine ad. 

• Keep a list of pest infestations and remedies that work! Very handy. Even if you haven’t been visited by those pesky aphids, write down the remedy. You may need it at some time in the future. Expand

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2. History

See your Garden Journal as a record of what has transpired in your garden:

• Take photos of your garden in all its glory during each of the seasons. Glue them onto pages and add a brief caption with date and any important information you might think useful, for example “This picture was taken before we lost the big Sycamore near the back of the garden.” 

• Draw or take pictures of some of your favorite blooms and plants. I’ve found it helpful to do a series of pictures of those special plants—when the plant first emerges from the earth, when it’s beginning to grow among its neighboring plants, when it’s in its full glory, and as it fades back into the greenery surrounding it. This “time lapse” helps me keep track of those special plants so my gardener or my own over-zealous gardening doesn’t pull out these special favorites as weeds or nuisances!  

• Keep a few pages each year as a weather journal. No need to get too carried away, but keep a few notes on significant storms, when the first frost comes, and when the last frost is past. Note particular dry spells and rainy seasons. This may sound rather dull, but over time you may be interested in looking back on the terrible wind storm” or (I hate to write it) the hurricane. 

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3. Creative Pages

Your Garden Journal can be a repository for ideas, those flashes of creativity when you think of all the things you’d like to try in your own garden.

• When you’ve toured a garden—your friend’s or a public garden, you have probably taken a few photos, maybe you’ve sketched a particularly lovely area. Why not print out those photos and glue them into your Garden Journal? Add a caption with date and whatever you can remember about the garden; its name (if it has one), location, time of year. You might simply cut out pictures from the garden’s brochure or buy a few postcards in their gift shop and tape them into your journal. We’re so fortunate to have the superb U.S. Botanical Gardens and the Hillwood Gardens in the District of Columbia as well as the London Town and Paca and other public gardens right here in Annapolis. 

• Flipping through those garden catalogues, tear out the pages with those glorious images of waterfalls and fountains, ponds and patios. Glue them into your Garden Journal for inspiration. 

• If you’re a collector, you might want to add blooms from your own flowers and press them for your Garden Journal. Pressed flowers and leaves are beautiful and sweet reminders of the joys your garden has given you. 

• There might be a place in your Garden Journal for poems and quotes—yours, those of friends, and those you come upon in your reading. Expand

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4. Charting Pages 

There is real value in devising charts or maps of your garden.

• Start with photos of each of your flowerbeds or areas of your lawn and garden. If there might be confusion, note the season, time of day, and location for each photo.

• From those photos you have a couple options. One, you can glue a photo per page and then write a caption in identifying the trees, shrubs, and plants that are visible. Preferably, include the age of the flora if you know. These will be intriguing records for future planning. It will be fun too to see over time how the trees, shrubs, and flowers grow and mature. 

• Another use for these photos is to develop a chart or map, perhaps using graph paper, for a bird’s eye view of the area in each photo. Put the photo and the map adjacent in your Garden Journal. We’ve all seen those simple, tidy mapped flower beds in catalogues and public gardens’ brochures. Try creating your own. (I must confess, my attempts look more like wild bird nests than maps of flower beds, but I’m sure you can do a better job.) 

• Another useful purpose for this section may be the recording of applications of fertilizers and natural herbicides. Keep track of applications on your maps. Over time you’ll see what is helping and what is doing nothing or hindering your garden. 

It’s likely you’ll think of other sections to add to your Garden Journal. That’s great—maybe a section for photos of parties and picnics in your garden. There is no way you can get this “wrong;” it’s your Garden Journal and your pleasure and interest. One day, you may happen upon one of your early volumes and smile as you see the changes your garden has undergone. You might even pass along your Garden Journal as a record of your house when you move, helping to protect the lovely plants you’ve nurtured and loved. Such a gift to new owners might be a real boon. Have fun. 

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

SEP. 11, 2021

MIDNIGHT

About J. F. Booth

I am a writer and educator.
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2 Responses to Four Reasons It’s Fun to Keep a Garden Journal

  1. Keeping a journal is a great way to improve your garden, as well as the garden of your life. A good choice is a spiral bound Strathmore sketch book (8 x 11-ish, available at Michael’s). And a ball point pen is just fine. It will encourage drawing as well a writing, and pasting. While reading George Elliot’s “Middlemarch”, I was struck by how much journaling everyone did in England in the mid 19th Century – for farms, gardens, whatever. It seems like it was a national pastime. No wonder they produced so many great novelists, as well as beautiful gardens.

  2. nlg49@charter.net says:

    That was a fun and useful article. Do you know how many times I’ve cut something out of the paper or a magazine and then forgotten where I put it??!! Same thing with receipts. And it’s a great idea to write down the date of plants. Daddy’s journal was great fun to read.

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