Garden Journals & Logs

Posted on Feb 8, 2012

Garden designers have been known to say that the most important component of a garden is 40 years.  Plants are alive and seem to exist just to break the rules of what we expect. It is seldom that they perform or behave as described in the reference books that we have pored over to do our planning.  It is the gardening experience and observation of our own piece of the earth that will lead us to understand – and possibly forecast – a plant’s behavior.

In defense of these plants and trees, we need to remember that the influences that affect the rate at which they grow, the color they develop, their size and longevity, are never the same.  It is through journaling and record keeping that we start to unravel the mysteries of our gardens.

When choosing a journal (or creating your own), it is important that you have the space to record the key factors:  sun exposure – both intensity and duration; water – both through rainfall and irrigation; temperature – highs and lows; adverse conditions such as wind; frost dates; the dates that you apply fertilizer and/or compost; and your planting and pruning schedule.   There should also be a space to copy down all of the information included on the plant tag.   It is also helpful to note the challenges your face (a pest, mildew, etc.) and how you treated for them and whether or not it was successful.  A place to organize pictures of your garden at various times of the year will serve to remind you not only of growth rates, but also at what time your garden is at its best and when to plan your outdoor party.

If you have a journal from last year, you have undoubtedly noticed the different bloom dates for many landscape plants; i.e., Camellias and Pyrus kawakamii (Evergreen Pear Trees).  Many of our trees that blossom in the spring are doing so at a much earlier point in time this year, due to a combination of the unusually high temperatures we have had for extended periods of time, and the lack of rainfall.  Remember that our plants don’t grow, bloom or produce based on the same calendar we use to chart the course of our daily lives.  Their calendar doesn’t have dates but, rather, climate influences that guide them through their stages.

Another important factor to record is the specific variety of plant that you have enjoyed more than others.  We all think that the little plastic tag from the nursery will stay put next to the new tomato plant that we have carefully introduced into our garden, but then reality hits and it breaks or is somehow eaten by the soil or is overtaken by the plant itself.  Whatever the cause – it most certainly will disappear.  It can be very frustrating to enjoy the fruits of your labor, only to not be able to remember what it was that you planted!

There are many journals and logs available online, depending on how in depth you would like to be with your record keeping.  I created my own journal with Excel and maintain it on my computer because I maintain records not only on the plants in my own garden, but others that I observe through my work.  My thought here was that it was probably safer because I back up the information on my computer regularly, and I would hate to see years of observation lost.  On the other hand, there is something very therapeutic about strolling through your garden with journal in hand, making notes on the spot and noting every detail – details that I think are sometimes forgotten by the time I sit down at my computer.  I can’t recommend any specific journal, but a search online produced many interesting options that you may wish to explore:

A Gardener’s Journal – for people who are very serious about detailed record keeping

Plant Jotter – web based with a yearly subscription

My Green Thumb: Your Gardening Organizer (available through various online bookstores)

Easy Bloom – is a device that actually records some of the environmental data and information in your garden and inputs it to your computer for you to track and maintain

Whether you choose to journal (record keeping with some of the emotion of gardening included) or to maintain a log (just the facts; all of the facts), you will be able to reflect upon your efforts and that selections you make this year, and use that information in the years ahead to better understand your garden and how it will perform.