Why Should You Bother Keeping a Garden Journal?
Because if you want to minimize mistakes and maximize successes and enJOYment in your garden, being observant and recording what you see is essential. Even a few brief notes in a Garden Journal can make a massive difference.
Most of us think we’ll remember what we’ve seen or done in our garden. But, time is a funny thing. It’s so easy to forget with the busyness of life, what we saw or did, and when that occurred. Where did last year go? In a flash!
Have you ever noticed holey leaf damage on a plant? Have greedy insects beaten you to it? It can be disheartening and frustrating to feel you can’t do anything about it.
- But what if you knew that at a certain time each year, grasshopper eggs were going hatch?
- What if you kept a record so you could put preventative controls in place to avoid that damage?
- Would that be valuable?
- Wouldn’t you feel a sense of satisfaction knowing what to expect and what actions to take when?
I’ll share another example. While filling the bird bath this morning, I noticed a baby kookaburra (native bird) in our garden, sitting on a low fence. Not long out of the nest, she’s now responsible for feeding herself. She was staring intently at the grass in front of her. Curious, I watched silently. What was she doing?
She sat patiently scanning the ground in front of her for about a minute. Suddenly, she dived down and grabbed an insect for breakfast. She immediately flew back up on the fence post and repeated the behaviour, again rewarding herself with more food a few minutes later.
This young bird learned quickly that if she sat still and focused her attention in one area, she would see something edible move in the grass. This opened up an opportunity to save her energy and feed herself. Successful once, she repeated the behaviour and was successful again. Fast learner hey? But are we?
Animals, and particularly birds, need to be incredibly observant. Their survival depends on it.
WHAT LESSON CAN BE LEARNED FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?
“To observe details and patterns, remember them, get our timing right and take appropriate action.”
Unless you have a photographic memory, it’s impossible to remember everything you need to grow a healthy productive garden, year after year. I spend a LOT of time observing, but couldn’t possibly remember all those details to form patterns and make better decisions. That’s why, of all the tools I use, my garden journals are the MOST valuable. Not only does a Garden Journal save you money, time and effort, but there are many other benefits that may surprise you.
What is a Garden Journal?
Quite simply, it’s a place to keep records, observations, plans, and anything that relates to your garden. A Garden Journal can become a unique history of what grows where and when. It can help you document successes, challenges and is the most valuable reference guide you can own. There are no rules! It is what YOU make it.
No matter where you live in the world, your garden is totally unique. Even if you and I lived in the same climate, in the same suburb, as next door neighbours, what we have growing, the microclimates, the soil, insects and plants are going to be different. You can learn to garden by principles and general guides, but your most valuable resource is studying your own unique space.
If you want a healthy productive garden, one of the most vital things you can spend time on, is keeping a journal. If you haven’t done so yet, I’m going to share why I believe this one action will make an awesome difference to your enjoyment and successes.
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What are the Benefits of Keeping a Garden Journal?
When I moved to the subtropics from a temperate climate, I had to start all over again. Learning what to plant when. The soils, climate and plants were different. The sunlight more intense, the rain more frequent! It took me a long time to get used to adapting my gardening skills to a new environment. The stupid mistake I made, was not writing down my experiences and observations as soon as I moved. That would have saved me a lot of time, money and dead plants (RIP)! Really dumb move on my part!
Do YOU ever forget:
- when to sow, prune or harvest your plants?
- where you bought your seeds or plants?
- which fertilizer you used or when you last applied it?
- what garden tasks should be done when?
- when you last watered or had rain?
- what solutions you tried last season for pests or diseases?
- what techniques you used that were successful or failed?
If so, keeping a Garden Journal will solve these problems for good! A simple date record will help you avoid making the same mistakes you did last year and save time and stress.
“A garden is the place millions of people go to touch the earth, to smell flowers – to use some of that fabled human brain power in the cause of better participating with natural processes in the place they call home. It serves as an art project, an organic produce market, a spiritual practice, a pharmacy. It offers ongoing lessons in ecology, biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology. Gardening imparts an organic perspective on the passage of time. It bestows on its practitioners a genuine sense of admiration for the plants, the soil, the sun, the water.”
– Jim Nollman, Why We Garden: Cultivating a Sense of Place
After I started taking note of what was happening in my garden, I realized documenting my observations was a shortcut I should have taken much earlier. I began keeping detailed records so I could notice patterns and become an expert in my own backyard. But I warn you: this is a joyful addictive process! Spending moments outdoors, with a notebook or camera in hand, can become such an enjoyable and absorbing pastime, you may forget the housework altogether!
By being observant and keeping a Garden Journal, you’ll discover:
- The benefits of being organized and storing valuable information you will treasure.
- What grows well and what doesn’t.
- Which techniques are successful and powerful lessons when problems occur.
- What living creatures, pests and diseases reside in your unique garden space and how they impact your plants.
- Your garden’s unique microclimates from your personal observations. Where the sun/shade are throughout the year, moist and dry soil, exposed windy areas, where the heat and colder spots are and much more.
- The timing of what to plant when, how to extend your harvest by sowing a little earlier or later, and how to avoid seasonal pest/disease problems.
- From your personal experiences and recorded observations, how to become the expert gardener in your space.
- How to manage problems more efficiently and increase your harvests.
- Delightful memories of what you’ve achieved, grown and harvested.
- Journalling is a relaxing form of garden therapy.
- A deep satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from applying knowledge and reaping the rewards of a garden you can be proud of.
- The beauty and creativity that comes from designing and growing your garden from the ground up.
What Can You Record in Your Garden Journal?
This is a master list to help you decide what’s most important to YOU. Pick and choose what you’d like to start with and whatever is going to be easy for you to record.
- Dates and Times. This is one of the most important aspects of journalling.
- Record WHEN you sow seeds, plants or transplant; days to maturity and harvest dates.
- If you plant by the moon, note the difference in your results when you work with nature vs when you don’t.
- Note WHEN it rained; first and last frost dates; sunlight hours; milestones achieved; fertilizing methods and frequency; flowering and fruiting times; days seeds take to germinate; or other relevant dates and times.
- Climate and Weather. Take note of rainfall, temperatures, drought, frost, snow, storms, windy periods and wind direction or anything else relevant to your location. Include microclimates in your garden such as protected zones and soil conditions.
- Photos. A photo log is a chronological record just as valuable as your written notes. Use your mobile phone, iPad or camera to take before, during and after pictures. They are incredibly inspiring and an accurate record of what you did when and where.
- Take photos of insects; when plants are in flower; seeds; spacing; projects; plant problems so you can diagnose and treat; harvests, etc.
- Save pictures from magazines or catalogues that inspire you or plants you want to grow.
- Pests, Problems and Diseases. Observe and learn which beneficial and pest insects, animals, birds and plant diseases are in your garden. Note any solutions or remedies you tried. Did they work? What techniques will you try next? This will help you discover what you need to learn more about.
- Plants. Keep plant lists, plant profiles and even a wish list.
- Which varieties are you growing and where?
- Note common and botanical names.
- If you move them, did they do better in a pot than in the garden bed?
- Which seed varieties were successful?
- Drawings, sketches and design plans. Record the location of your pots, garden beds and plants you don’t want to lose track of! Note colour and plant combinations you liked or want to change. This is especially important for crop location, succession planting or bulbs and tubers you can’t see until spring.
- Garden Maintenance. This is hugely important!
- How did you prepare your soil?
- What supplies did you use?
- Which pot did you select? Was it too shallow or small?
- How deep did you sow the seeds?
- How often did you water, mulch or fertilize? Did you overwater and drown your poor darlings?
- Did you crop rotate or did your plants suffer from pest or disease attack?
- What actions made a positive difference or turned your plants into ‘dried arrangements’?
- Harvests. You may want to record the weights or quantities of what you grow each year.
- Successes and Disappointments. Look for ways to turn disappointing results into learning opportunities this year.
- What grew well? Grow more! Save those seeds or take more cuttings.
- What didn’t go to plan? Which plants were casualties?
- What pests or diseases were problems for you?
- Sources and Resources. Keep a record of where you buy seeds, plants, your favourite suppliers, catalogues and helpful websites.
- Inspiring Ideas. See a garden design idea you want to try? A DIY project or plant combination? Save the ideas and instructions for inspiration. Feeling artistic or creative?
“Even while we study and master the individual tasks and lessons of gardening, the garden remains as a place that is far greater than the sum of its parts. After plant infatuations, color schemes, and double digging, there is still the essence of the garden, the central theme that invites our attention. Happily, the exploration and creation of the garden goes on … and on … and on…” – Lynn Purse, The Creative Gardener
Garden Journal Ideas
I’d be lost without my Garden Journals. They’re like gold! I’ve used several different formats over the years. I’ve tried diaries with detailed hand written notes; online journal entries in MyFolia; and folders with seed packets and template pages. I enjoy using all of these formats. You don’t have to stick with just one!
There are many Garden Journal formats – both physical and digital. What’s right for you? That depends on whether you’re:
- Someone who enjoys writing, keeping notes and having a reference guide you can pick up in your hands (a physical book or folder journal may suit you best);
- Someone who prefers online tools for ease and convenience (an online journal, Pinterest board or smartphone app might be options for you);
- A casual gardener – you might just simply need a few bullet pointed notes;
- A beginner gardener – you are likely to need help and guidance from a more experienced gardener, as well as keeping your own records;
- A serious gardener – you want to improve season after season, year after year. You might be growing plants or produce to sell, have a business, hosting garden tours or be a plant enthusiast and really need accurate records.
Types of Garden Journals
These are a few Garden Journal formats for you to consider:
- Paper diaries, journals and notebooks. With this style of Garden Journal, you physically write in the blank pages to record your notes. They are bound so you can’t insert pages. Some have pockets, tips and guidelines. One option is to keep a diary just for your garden notes. You can write in it as often as you want to. Choose carefully to make sure the journal you buy has sufficient pages and the features you want. As you will only have room to record your observations, you will likely need another way to store photos, seed packets, etc.
- Folder or ring binder with customized sections. Inside your folder, add dividers with labels for each year, month, season, etc. You can add sections for plants, garden spaces, seasonal activities, receipts, weather observations, garden suppliers, DIY project instructions, course notes, graph paper for garden design plans or sketches, pockets for photos, plant labels or seed packets and anything else that inspires you.
- Use digital templates as a shortcut, to get started quickly. This Garden Journal Planner and Workbook has printable pages and practical worksheets you can keep in your homemade folder. This is the most flexible option, because you can print off template pages to suit your specific needs and design the contents of your folder according to your personal preferences. Template pages allow you to organize your records according to how you will use them. Plastic sleeves are also a convenient way to store planting guides such as a Moon Calendar, Potting Mix Guide or Subtropical Planting Guide.
- ONLINE JOURNALS. There are many ways to keep records online – free and paid.
- Pinterest. A convenient way to organize photos of projects you might like to try; gardens that inspire you; products you’re interested in; tips you want to keep in one place; and other visual ideas linked to websites with more information. You can set up online ‘scrapbooks’ or ‘boards’ and then save photos into these so you can keep them organized. As an example, you can access all my inspiring ideas on Pinterest here.
- Instagram. Use your smartphone to take photos and upload to Instagram for an online diary of your garden projects, plants, harvests and meals. Take a peek at my garden and how I use Instagram.
- MyFolia. I have used MyFolia and like the journal format because you can upload your own photos and keep detailed records from year to year.
- Evernote is an all-in-one online ‘filing system’. This free product allows you to keep everything in the one place and share your ideas across any device. Jot down a reminder, save photos, documents or notes in any format and organize them however you like.
- GARDEN PLANNER APPS. You may prefer to use an app for your mobile device or smartphone. Apps allow you to design your garden and keep a record of what you plant. However, most apps don’t allow you to make detailed notes and observations about your garden, so consider all the features carefully for paid apps. You may need an additional journal to write in such as a folder or diary.
- BOXES AND CONCERTINA FILES. Maybe you like to keep things all together in a shoe box style of storage. It’s difficult to organize but if you don’t want to keep much, then this might be for you.
Personally, this year, I’m using my Garden Journal Planner and Worksheet template pages in a folder to keep records of my garden activities (see below).
If I’m in a hurry I make a quick diary note. I use Pinterest boards for inspiration and ideas, with a concertina file for magazine or newspaper clippings, brochures from garden shows and other snippets.
How to Use Your Garden Journal
- At the start of each year, review the previous year’s history and journal records you kept. You will have a sense of achievement just by looking back and realizing what you did and learned. This will also help you gain insight into problems you need to address and inspire you to dream about what you want to improve on and achieve this year.
- Compare your journal records to past years to see if you are improving. If this is your first year of keeping records, you may want to put extra effort into details like dates, climate conditions and plants. This is your starting point so be as observant as you can. Read other local gardeners’ journals on sites like MyFolia to get the heads up on what to expect in your location.
- Review what went well and do more of the same. Even if you haven’t kept records from the past year, start by noting down anything you can e.g. “Had a wetter than normal summer. More grasshoppers than usual. A new pest or disease that appeared. The mulch helped reduce water usage. Cherry tomatoes did better than hybrid varieties – especially Tommy Toe.” Include any observations you can recall! All this is helpful, even if you can’t put exact dates in.
- Plan ahead to try to avoid problems. Explore new techniques or products to improve success. Aim to take a course, workshop or attend a local talk. These will build your knowledge and skills. Note down resources, topics or books you want to learn more from, to improve your understanding about certain aspects of your garden.
- Plan the year ahead based on lessons learned and your new goals. Dream BIG but start small. Set yourself seasonal goals based on what you want to change or improve on this year. So, if you had a disaster with pests last season, you could aim to improve your soil health and learn about pest management strategies you can try.
Aim to become the expert gardener in your garden. Over time, you will notice important patterns that give you vital clues on to what to do when. Your garden journal will save you time and money, but more importantly, bring you a great deal of satisfaction. So, you’ll learn when certain plants are in flower, that bees or birds arrive for the nectar and fruit. You’ll discover when certain weather conditions occur, pests or diseases are more common. So you’ll be able to prevent issues before they occur.
Whether you use your Garden Journal to improve your successes and get more enjoyment from your garden, or to hand down to your family or the next property owner, I believe this tool is vital. Finally, how much or little you record is entirely up to you. I encourage you to share in the comments what you use and whether this inspires you to start journalling!
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