Keeping a Garden Journal

Keeping a Garden Journal

By Brenda Evans, Master Gardener


If you are the type of person who keeps lists, agendas, or journals to stay organized, then chances are you already have a garden journal. Journaling in general is considered a healthy practice. A garden journal is a valuable tool to record ideas, plans, and observations of your garden to refer to at a future date. It eliminates stress and worry as once you’ve recorded your thoughts you can just relax, knowing that it’s okay if you forget them, they’ve already been filed for safekeeping.

 If you are considering starting a garden journal or upgrading to a different style of journal there are many options available. However, to ensure that the style you purchase will meet your needs, you should consider how you are going to use it. The amount of detail you want to include is up to you.

It’s always helpful to include a map of your garden beds. A map can include site characteristics such as the location of any structures, utilities, trees, and plants as well as conditions such as the amount of sun or shade throughout the day and any windy or low-lying wet spots. Your garden journal can provide the names and locations of the plants along with their characteristics such as growing requirements and when they bloom, any pests and disease problems and action taken, soil conditions and amendments, seeds harvested and germination rates, seasonal chores, and more. Vegetable gardeners may journal harvests and crop rotations. Garden project journals include budgeting and expense worksheets. Other garden journals come with seasonal To-Do lists, inspirational quotes, tips, or instructions on gardening techniques such as pruning or other tasks. There are many options available.

Of course, to ensure your journal includes every possible feature you want, you could create your own garden journal. An electronic document could include all the worksheets, notes, plant lists, and as many inserted photographs as you like. The initial setup may take some time but would be worth it.

Another consideration is the actual size and structure of the journal itself. Does it lay flat so you can write comfortably, or do you have to place a heavy object on one side to hold it down? Consider a spiral rather than a glued spine for this reason. Some include a pocket on the inside cover to store seed packets or photos but if you have more than a couple of either that pocket may not be sufficient for you.

A three-ring binder is a good option because you can add pages as you go. Photo sleeves can be inserted to organize photos, plant labels and seed packets. It’s also easy to organize sections with separator pages. These days there’s a computer app for everything, even gardening. You can upload photos, observations and more and your records can be accessed from a computer or smartphone.

An instructor once suggested a journaling method that I have followed ever since. I use a simple 9”x 7” spiral notebook, the perfect size to be functional yet still fit in my bag. When visiting gardens, or attending workshops or presentations, I jot down any garden designs or plants that I would like to incorporate into my own garden, on the left-hand page of the notebook. The right-hand page is left blank for the present, providing a space to include my action plan for completing any tasks involved with the items I noted on the left-hand side.

Often, when I am without my journal, I take a photo or record a plant in the ‘Notes’ on my cellphone. Once at home, I can transfer this information into my journal for later reference. I find it much more convenient to have all this information together in one place.

Because deer are regular visitors to my yard, my journal also includes a running list of the plants that (supposedly) deer will not eat. Obviously, those in my neighbourhood haven’t read the list as it continuously needs updating with deletions. Likewise, the rabbits have a favourite selection of flowers to take note of for future reference.

At the end of the season, I like to summarize my garden’s performance in my journal. What did I like or dislike? There may be perennials that I would transplant to a more appropriate location, or just choose to donate to a plant sale the next spring. There may be annuals I’d choose to purchase again, or not. There may be changes I want to make in the yard to lessen the annual maintenance or lower my garden-associated expenses. Once I’ve completed my summary, I can just put the journal back on the shelf and not worry about it.

Early in the new year, I enjoy sitting down with my garden journal to begin the planning process for the coming summer. Rather than relying on memory, I can simply read my notes from last year and create my shopping list. When you find yourself at Seedy Saturday and MMGA or community garden club plant sales, you’ll find it much easier to focus on what you want and perhaps refrain from purchasing more than you need.

Whichever kind of garden journal you choose, you and your garden will benefit from the knowledge recorded within.

North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook/Appendix A – Garden Journaling

Banner Image: Chiot’s Run, Flickr, CC By-NC 2.0 Deed