Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ways to Use A Garden Journal

My Date Books turned Garden Journals from the past three years.
My Date Books turned Garden Journals from the past three years.
Do you have a garden journal? Journals are a great idea for furthering your garden education... but then there is the patient work of actually writing in them. Where to begin? How do you scramble to catch-up when you are behind?

One of my favorite garden authors, Rosemary Verey, said, 
"Take note as you go... Learn to build up your knowledge of plants, not only to be able to recognize them but to know what growing conditions they like or dislike, when they will flower, what their leaves will contribute before and after flowering, how they will relate to their neighbors.  This knowledge comes only with familiarity, observation and experience" (Rosemary Verey's Making of a Garden, page 17).


One of the best ways to put all of that information together is to write your observations in a garden journal. A journal will help you learn about your plants and also about the seasons that drive the garden along throughout the year. Knowing your particular climate, with its percentage of rain and its heat index, will help you garden more successfully. With this knowledge, you will make better choices at the nursery and have better success when siting plants.

If you want to keep a written record of your garden, here are a few ideas to get you started... or to keep you going, as the case may be:

  • Use a Date Book! - because gardening revolves around the calender. What time of year did I order mulch last year? When did Tulip 'Shirley' bloom? Does Clematis 'Nelly Moser' bloom at the same time as Geranium macrorrhizum? Most date books come with a full month layout and then blocks for each day.  The date books that I use also have three lined-pages for notes in each month, which I find very helpful. Because a date book already has a strong form, it becomes easier just to "fill it in" with the information that you are concerned about remembering.
Date books also have all the holidays listed, which can be helpful for reminding yourself of needed garden maintenance... like planting out annuals after Mother's Day, pruning your perennials at the end of May (Chelsea Show time), or cutting back your mums by half for July 4th. (Note: These holiday guidelines are for hardiness zone 5.)

  • Write the "bloom schedule" for your garden on the monthly calender. Write the names of the varieties and show when they start & stop... also what is blooming with them. Write down if you like it or not!
Sample bloom schedule from my April 2010 journal.
Sample bloom schedule from my April 2010 journal.
  • Use your photos to fill in the bloom schedule where you have failed to keep up with it during the growing season. Do not give up if you fall behind in June!  Use all of those amazing photos on your computer to fill in the gaps in your journal later in November when you are huddled inside from the freezing rain. This will be especially easy for those gardeners who are also bloggers and have filled our hard-drives with photos many times over!

  • Write down major weather occurrences. Record the last frost, the first frost, the first snow, extended hot weather, rain, drought, average temperatures for the week, etc. Then when you are wondering when spring in coming next year, you will have a more accurate idea.

  • Take it in the garden with you to write down your to-do lists as you walk through the garden. Check off or write down the tasks that you complete.
Left side is the whole month calender for the "bloom schedule" and the right side is daily blocks for writing chores lists and/or the jobs that you complete.
Left side is the whole month calender for the "bloom schedule" and the right side is daily blocks for writing chores lists and/or the jobs that you complete.

  •  Write down the names of new plants that you buy... and where you planted them. Just in case you can't find that nice little label later.

  • Write down your seed order right in your January notes. Dream your winter months away, and still be able to remember which ones you wanted to order.


  • Write notes for which bulbs you want to buy in the fall... do it in the springtime making notes straight into the "September notes". Then you will be able to find them to place your order in the fall. Walk through your garden at the height of spring and daydream about what else you could do next year. 

  • Observe away! Write down anything that you like, do not like, would like to do better, etc. The daily blocks or the notes section is a good place for this. I sometimes make little sketches in my notes about how I want to redesign a garden area for next year.
Seed list from 2011 in my garden journal
Seed list from 2011 in my garden journal

  • Use it to take notes from your favorite garden books. Write down the title, author and page number to help you find certain ideas or information later on. 

  • Use it to take notes of the gardens you visit each year... collect maps and photos, ideas for the future. Whether the gardens are grand or small, every garden contains ideas that you might be able to use in part for your own garden.

  • Write down your garden book reading list. The address section in the end of the date book can be used for this. Write down the names of garden books as you come across them... write whether you want to borrow them from the library or buy them.

  • Use your garden journals to compare what is happening in the weather and your garden year to year. Use these comparisons to perfect what you want to be blooming at certain times of the year. Use them in the winter months to dream about your garden plantings.
Comparing the weather and flowers in the month of March from the past three years.
Comparing the weather and flowers in the month of March from the past three years.

  • Use a beautiful date book and you are more likely to enjoy using it! I have loved using these Perennial Grace Date Books.You might find others in the Brush Dance series that you like better on Amazon... like this one with doors... or this one with birds. So there is my sales pitch for the week. :)  I really love these books.

I hope that gives you some ideas about how to use your garden journal more effectively to do what you want to do in your garden! Everyone has their own preferences and ways of remembering things, so hopefully you will be able to use these ideas to fit in to your style of record keeping. Hopeful this post is helpful to my readers who have asked me about how I use my garden journals.

Having said all the above, I would not feel honest without saying that this year has been a much less productive year for my garden and my garden journaling.  Between my migraine issues and the extremely dry weather, my garden has not received the care that it did in the past few years. My goal this year is not really to write down everything, but anything! There is no failing in this art of gardening, just learning and trying again. Every year and season in our lives has an ebb and flow - just as our gardens do also.

So, maybe 2013 is your year to give it a go?

14 comments:

  1. Until I read your last paragraph I was truly beginning to think you were superwoman! You do so much, seem to be so organised, you leave me breathless at times. I’m sorry about the migraines (have you tried acupuncture? I don’t suffer many (thank goodness) but when I do I find it helpful if I can locate the shiatsu point between the thumb and first finger and press, even sort of vibrate the pressing thumb; when you have a migraine you can actually feel a kind of lump. Do give this a try if you haven’t done so before – it doesn’t work for everyone but with migraines anything is worth trying to ease them!
    Great advice about the journal. You could even create a suitable spread-sheet on the computer, maybe not as beautiful as your books but you can have more space for the days when more things are happening. You could even transfer directly your bulb and seed orders. Christina

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    1. Thank you, Christina for your advice! I have been having more success this summer at controlling my migraines, which I found out were the cause for my 5 weeks of vertigo in the spring. Migraines issues are so complex that it is worth trying just about everything.

      I do find it nicer to have something that is portable to carry with me into the garden... to sit on the front steps and scribble notes about certain flower combinations. If I had a laptop, that might be a great solution. But there is still something in it for me with the use of a pen and the actual writing... I am a bit old fashioned I guess :)
      ~Julie

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  2. Julie, you wrote very useful things. Of course, having journal it is easy to remember all that passed last week, month, year in the garden.

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    1. Thanks Nadezda! I am glad that you found it helpful.
      ~Julie

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  3. Sorry to hear you've been having migraines! That doesn't sound very enjoyable :( Hope all else is well....

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  4. Thanks for a very useful guide to doing a garden journal - with a reality check at the end. This is something I've always meant to do but haven't. I hope next season I can do two or three of the items you list above, then move on from there.

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  5. Julie I have so many garden journals started that I need to incorporate them into one. I like the idea of a date book so I will see how it goes and thanks for all the great ideas.

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  6. Found your blog for the first time and see there is a colleage crazy gardener. Yes, I also have lots of garden journals over the years, but the last few years I often forget to write things down. When there are special highlights in the garden I put it in my daily diary. I like your blog and will follow you.
    Regards,
    Janneke

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  7. Wow, yes I agree with Christina that I was getting the impression you are superwoman! ;-) I love the "idea" of a garden journal, but the work of gardening, taking photos, cropping and watermarking said photos, writing, and posting to my blog will have to take the place for now. If I ever get tired of blogging, a garden journal looks like a fantastic endeavor! Yours are beautiful--and so organized!

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  8. Thank you for this post. It must have been a lot of work but was very clear and well laid out-just the way I like it. I'm sure the younger generation think a paper journal is old fashioned but imagine the delight of future generations finding them in a trunk or attic. I love finding things in my grandmother's handwriting. Are they really going to find such a treasure trove on a lap top?

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  9. Merci Julie pour ces précieux conseils ! J'ai décidé, grâce à toi, de commencer SERIEUSEMENT (!) un journal de jardinage. Le tien est tellement beau que j'ai commandé le même sur Amazon ! Je me réjouis de le recevoir...
    J'espère que tu trouveras un remède efficace contre tes migraines.
    C'est toujours un vrai plaisir de venir visiter ton blog même si je n'y écris pas souvent!
    Amicalement, Marie

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    1. Julie
      thank you for these precious advice! I decided, thanks to you, start SERIOUSLY (!) Newspaper gardening. Yours is so beautiful that I ordered the same on Amazon! I am delighted to receive ...
      I hope you find an effective remedy against your migraines.
      It is always a pleasure to visit your blog even if I do not write often!
      Regards, Marie

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    2. Marie,
      You are very welcome! I am glad that you like the journal and will begin to keep your own. It is delightful to get to know your own garden so well.
      ~Julie

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  10. I just ordered the 2014 version off of ebay and am so exited to get it!!! What a great idea Julie. Thanks for writing this up and giving us samples of how you use a notebook!

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