My Garden Journals

  • Post published:01/22/2009


            Recently I’ve been writing about the books you read, for information and inspiration. Now I want to talk about the book you write, your garden journal.

            Garden journals are as individual as a gardener’s garden. I have seen beautifully kept journals, annotated with delicate sketches and drawings. Mine have never looked like that.

            I’ve seen journals devotedly kept every day of the year, with notes on the weather, what’s been done in the garden, and what is blooming or fruiting or ready for harvest. Mine have never looked like that either.

            My journals have been kept sporadically, and some years I haven’t kept one at all.

When kept my notes have been made in all kinds of books. I started out keeping the barest amount of information, especially about weather, in little faux leather diaries with the year stamped in gold. These were my first garden journals and they now live in a jumble on the bookshelf between a series of Garden Way booklets, and a collection of garden essays.

            In the mid-80s I used a basic three year journal published by the American Horticultural Society, and made brief notations during the garden season.

Several years later a friend gave me a Three Year Garden Journal: with regional gardening guides by Louise Carter and Joanne Lawson that I used from 1991-93. There is a new edition with beautiful photographs by Allen Rokach that has updated information.  The advantage of this three year journal is that each two page spread includes four columns, one for tips, and one for a single week each year, which means you can easily see the difference in the weather and the garden’s behavior over a three year span of time.

            I kept my three year journal fairly well during the active garden months, but there just wasn’t much to say between October, once the killing frost was noted, and March. As I look back through this journal I wish I had been more specific. I thought even sketchy notes would bring the details back to mind, but apparently that isn’t so.

            Because I am easily intimidated by beautiful journals, my most recent joural, but one, (currently mislaid) was a child’s notebook I bought during our stay in China, 1995-96. Chang e, the goddess of the moon was on the cover and I was fond of the goddess and her companion, the jade rabbit.  I thought I could make this my own multiyear journal, by leaving plenty of blank space for additional notes. This worked pretty well, especially when I  would say  May 20 1996 – Planted the Perdita rose.  June 20 1997 – Perdita dead. A succinct report.

            The other thing I did was to cut out photos from the nursery catalog and tape them in so I would have the proper name of the plant I bought, cultural information, and the photo to show me what attracted me when the plant somehow looks completely different in my garden. This is a good idea even if it does make the journal puff up with the added paper.

            In my little Chinese notebook I also cut out weekly precipitation reports from the West County News.  I was trying to cut down on the labor of keeping these statistics and making them more accurate.

            Again, my reporting was more regular during the active garden season.

            In March of 2006 I began keeping a new journal. I had bought a handsome spiral bound blank book with pages heavy enough so that I could include my own little watercolor sketches.  If I were the kind of person who would attempt such a thing.

            I did tape in a few clippings from catalogs, and I did keep more detailed notes during the growing season. .  I was better about including proper plant names, even when I didn’t just tape in a catalog clipping. I occasionally managed to make a list of the perennials in bloom at a given moment.

            All in all, 2008 was a banner year for keeping a garden journal.  Oddly enough, I kept a better paper record, because I was also keeping an online record. At the end of 2007 I started my Commonweeder blog, where I posted two or three times a week about doings in the garden or in the broader world of gardeners, environmental issues and books. For once there are journal entries even when there is nothing doing in the outside garden.

            One of the advantages of the blog for me is that it holds digital photographs of the garden throughout the year.

            More and more I am enjoying keeping a journal. It is an historic record of the changes in the garden, indeed in my life.  I find it a little alarming to see all the David Austin roses that I have planted, and watched die after two or three years, but I did ultimately learn my lesson, and now only admire the Austin roses in books and catalogs where no bitter winter can threaten.

            I can enjoy the vagaries of the weather over time, whether drought or ice, from a happy remove.

 I can look at plans I’ve made and been pleased at their fruition, or sigh with the thought that I’ve had some really bad ideas.

I’ve been so devoted in my entries that I may finally feel worthy of the beautiful pale green Italian journal a friend bought for me in Florence about 10 years ago.



January 10, 2009