By Pamela Hubbard, Penn State Cooperative Extension, Monroe County
As a passionate gardener I believe that one of the keys to success is keeping records of your gardening endeavors. To this end, a fun and useful winter activity is to start a garden journal.
A garden journal is your own personal diary of what happens in your garden, starting with the planning in January through putting your garden to bed in October. It provides a place to keep together all information, plans and notes about your garden. Your journal can be as simple as a composition book or as elaborate as a creative scrapbooking endeavor. I've tried several methods and developed a few tips for effective garden journaling.
Types of Garden Journals
Begin by choosing the type of journal that would best work for you. Consider if you want to record simple details or your gardening story.
For simple details you can use notebook paper, a composition book or notecards. Just be sure to date each page or card. I used this method for years until I felt the need to be more organized (I couldn't always find what I was searching for) therefore switched to calendars.
I prefer a monthly calendar with a large square for each day and a desk calendar with a page for each week. I use the former to record seed-starting activities and the latter for more detailed notes.
If you want more room to write, there are some beautiful dedicated garden journals available in bookstores. They often contain graphs for sketching and planning, calendars without dates so the journal can be used any year, space to record your thoughts, charts for recording information like flower purchases and blooming times, and information pages with gardening hints for each month.
Using a computer is a fast way to record what is going on in your garden; it is faster than writing your journal by hand. If this method is for you it has the benefit of being able to add digital photographs right into the document, size them to meet your needs, and easily delete and replace them. Like many gardeners around the world, I write an online gardening blog that records my gardening journey in photographs, but that method is not for everyone. Just try to write something each month, remembering to include the date and year in each entry. Save your entries and print them when you have completed a year.
Keep the printed pages in a three-ring binder for future reference. Place tabs in the binder to mark the years. I like to save plant tags but too often they disappear and I can't remember names of plants. Adding photo sleeves for plant tags solves this problem. Also, your binder is a good place to keep gardening information from newspapers and magazines.
What to Record
Vegetable garden information As new seed catalogs arrive, begin by making an inventory of the leftover seeds from previous years and list the new ones you need to order. Plan your vegetable garden on graph paper at this time and add it to your journal. It's important to note where you planted vegetables last year so that you can rotate vegetables in the same family. For example, do not follow tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant or peppers with each other or you will encourage soil-borne diseases and pest outbreaks.
Landscape beds Draw a rough sketch of each landscape bed indicating its plantings. Show the places where you plan to add flowers and shrubs in the coming season and mark their names. At the beginning of the season, record planting dates; add plant tags or seed packets. You may want to list flower colors, bloom times, plant heights and growing requirements.
Seasonal landmarks Record the dates of each year's seasonal landmarks: weather patterns, when the first spring flower bloomed, arrival of butterflies and hummingbirds, the first and last frost. Also, note when pest problems appeared and what you did about them.
Regular gardening activities Document your gardening activities such as soil preparation, watering, mulching and fertilizing. Identify areas that receive too little or too much water. Record when you harvest vegetables. Note garden successes and needed improvements. Your journal will help identify where in your garden different types of plants thrive.
Budget A journal enables you to keep track of your garden expenses. It may be useful to record the nurseries and catalogs you used. If possible include the receipts and note the purchase dates.
Illustrating Your Journal
As I mentioned, a benefit of journaling on the computer is the ease of adding photographs. For journals in a binder or notebook, if you like to draw you can make sketches of individual flowers. When you see plants you like in catalogs and magazines, cut them out and paste them in your journal. When you are ready to purchase, it makes them easy to find. Some gardeners include pressed flowers or leaves.
How to Use the Information in Your Journal
The information in your journal becomes an invaluable reference to review at the end of the year or to look back on over the years. You can identify where different types of plants thrive, obtain a greater understanding of landscape characteristics such as microclimates and check that you have 'the right plant in the right place.' I record high and low temperatures and rainfall amounts; in midsummer if a plant isn't doing well I look back to see if weather was a factor. As you review past journals you will see patterns in your garden. By looking at photographs over the years, I noted the decline of a beloved climbing rose, Rosa Blaze Improved, and decided this year I will remove it and replace it with a clematis. While I'm sad at losing the rose, I have the fun of choosing a new climbing plant. My journal helps me plan for the future; it is a tool to prevent repeated mistakes. My journal becomes especially valuable as my memory needs more help.
Now is the time to plan for the new garden season; it is the perfect time to begin a garden journal. Keeping a garden journal can give you a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Choose a method of journaling that suits you and have fun! Happy journaling!
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