Every winter I end up suggesting somewhere or another that January is a great time to start a garden journal or notebook to record everything during the entire primary growing season. The new year is an obvious place to start one not only because it’s the beginning of the calendar year, but because it also happens to be the pre-garden season.
The records of what you were planning on growing in the garden, and where, and when you were going plant them is the beginning of a personalized custom book custom made for you. At first, garden journals may seem like extra nit-picky work at a time when your garden needs you most. But there are some excellent reasons for taking a little extra time to jot down some important notes. After a couple of years, your garden journal will become a valuable personalized tool for the future.
The single most helpful thing in a garden journal are the dates that you write down. It might be the date you planted the perennial or the date you planted tomato seeds or harvested fruit. But the dates are going to be your biggest helpful hint for planning next year’s garden. Especially if you’re a vegetable gardener, dates will also tell you if you’ve chosen the right vegetable variety for your growing zone.
The description of the plant varieties are the next most helpful information. What they looked like (pretty or not)? Difficult to grow or laid-back ? Too big? Too small or perfect for your yard? In the case of edible plants: How was the flavor? The yield? Were they an easy target for disease or pests? The answers will tell you if you should re-plant those varieties or try new something new.
Your journal should be scribbled from time-to-time especially during specific times for plants. When plants started blooming and when they stopped. When fruit showed up on the vine, when it was harvested and when it stopped showing up. When tree leaves unfolded and when the leaves fell off. If you’re looking to have continuous bloom in the garden, greenery, or more vegetables, this is the information you’ll need to purchase the right plants to fill in the gap.
You may have notes that remind you about which plant pests you battled so you’re prepared for it next year such as gopher, rabbits, or snails. These notes can remind you which perennials you already divided and where those new bulbs are located. If you were doing a lot of hand watering, you’ll be reminded to add a drip system or soaker hose to a certain spot in the yard.
Keep notes such as the surprising height of a tree that you thought was a “dwarf” variety for future reference. Use the old-fashioned cut and paste method of pictures of things you dream of doing in your future garden. Can you incorporate some of those ideas in the coming season?
If you used illustrations — and I certainly hope that you did — in your journal, they can potentially help you remember the variety, color, and placement of the plants you grew last season — even as they’re dormant now. If you used a plain pencil — use colored ones next time it makes a beautiful (and informational) difference.
Hopefully you added paper pocket dividers to your journal. If so, check there for pictures, receipts, and seed packets that offer clues to the plants that you started from seed and if they were successful for you. The pictures will also jog your memory on how the plants grew and looked in the place where you planted them.
Graph or plain paper with simple drawings of the placements of plants in your yard and garden can be a huge help for planning a better garden. Did those plants fill in well? Or did they grow a bit too big? Were they getting enough water in those places or too little? Plant placement drawings can help you decide if you need to add more plants, more color, or more balance.
After you’ve made notes, pictures, drawings, clippings, and extra information to your journal pages, you’ll notice that your garden journal isn’t just about your garden. It becomes a timeline of the garden part of your life. It keeps the memories of what was important to you for each passing gardening year.