On the morning of January 1, 2013, I will brew a cup of coffee, open my garden journal and record the temperature, the color of the morning sky, and what plants (if any) are blooming in my winter garden. This year Hana Jiman Sasanqua camellias, coneflowers (Echinacea), feverfew and hardy salvia are still blooming in our relatively balmy temperatures.
I have been keeping a garden journal for the past ten years. I began my first journal in January, when my garden was reduced to its “bones”, and I could view it without the distractions of flowers and shrubs in bloom. This clear view allowed me to see what changes I might make and make plans for spring planting.
A garden journal is a useful tool. On a practical basis, it helps with planning future garden changes. It is a record of what plant material the garden contains and what did well, as well as problems that were encountered over the growing season and what solutions worked. On a deeper level, it retains memories of the hopes and aspirations of the gardener—a keepsake of all the things we love and find frustrating about gardening.
My first garden journal was a file folder filled with receipts, plant tags and sketches of the garden. As my desire for an orderly life increased, I bought a loose-leaf spiral binder with sections for each garden; plastic sleeves for photos and plant tags; and pages for the care and maintenance of each plant.
I still maintain that spiral binder—it is useful for corralling all of the flotsam and jetsam of gardening life—and it is easy to update and to insert pages for new plant material.
But the spiral binder does not fulfill my wish for an overall view of how the change in temperatures and rainfall has affected the plants in my garden over the past few years, or my joys and disappointments as a gardener. Four years ago, I found the perfect solution to this problem: A Gardener’s Journal, a 10-year garden diary available from Lee Valley Tools.
A Gardener’s Journal is a hard cover, gilt embossed volume, some 500 pages thick, with sections devoted to garden layout, inventories of gardening purchases, soil test records, helpful gardening advice, seasonal planners and, best of all, a daily diary spanning a ten year period. Each page of the diary has space to enter ten years’ worth of temperatures, weather, and gardening activities. At a glance, the gardener can get a picture of what happened in the garden on that day over a ten-year span.
On January 1st my garden diary shows that the past two years have had above-average temperatures of 58+ degrees Fahrenheit, and little or no precipitation. My Hana Jima camellias have been in bloom, and on January 1, 2012, the forsythia began to open. Diary notes indicate that I was concerned about the lack of rainfall and the winter-kill of shrubs blooming too early, but ecstatic about the wealth of blooms on the camellias. I was also trying to decide where to incorporate the pinxterbloom azalea and edgeworthia chrysantha a dear friend had given me.
I love A Gardener’s Journal because it is a pleasure to handle the hard cover book, and keeping up a daily journal takes perseverance. It costs around $40, which is not too bad when divided over a 10 year span.
There is no wrong method of journal keeping, and many benefits to keeping one. I would encourage every gardener to find the kind of journal that suits his or her personal style. Although the Lee Valley A Gardener’s Journal is my personal favorite, I have also found these journals to be helpful: Louise Carter’s spiral bound The New Three Year Garden Journal (about $200), John Ashton’s The Gardener’s Five-Year Journal (about $100), Mimi Luebberman’s My Garden, A Five-Year Journey [Journal] (about $14.00), and Moleskine Passions Gardening Journal (about $14.00).
Gardeners can also use freely available online templates to create their own garden journal. Some of those I have found most helpful can be found at the following sites:
There is also software available to keep up with gardening chores, changes and future plans. Although I prefer a hard copy journal, these two software products are ranked highly: http://www.plantjotter.com/ (An on-line journal with a yearly subscription of $21.00, which includes site support for a plant database, a general maintenance calendar, and plant care hints for over 145 perennial plants); and http://www.gardentracker.com/ ($59.95, which includes garden tracking software, a garden notebook, five plant marker holders, ten seed collection envelopes, a dozen worksheets, and sample reports).
Whether you use a hard copy, downloadable or software-provided journal, I encourage every gardener to join me in keeping a record of gardening aspirations, successes and disappointments over the seasons. I have thoroughly enjoyed laughing over recorded gardening mistakes, remembering thoughtful garden gifts from friends, and unearthing garden remedies that worked on troublesome garden pests.
As the New Year begins, I will be writing my journal, hot coffee in hand, comforted by the knowledge that I have six more years of entries before the current journal is complete. I wish all of you a happy, healthy and productive (at least gardening-wise) 2013!
Eleni Silverman is a Master Gardener, President of the Belle Haven Garden Club, Chair of the Landscape Committee at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and author of the garden blog, "Belle Haven Garden Maven." She is sole proprietor of The Well Tended Garden, providing garden grooming, coaching and design. She admits to a fascination with all things gardening, believes even compost is engaging, and will eagerly discuss the relative merits of leaf mold versus hardwood mulch.