On March 28, 2016, I began keeping a garden journal. Now, mine is a simple Word document. The first year I wrote in black type, this year my font is in red, and the entries for the next year will be in blue. By adding an entry by date under the old one, I can quickly determine if there is much difference between the various gardening years.
I have found this reference is a tremendous help, partially because I can only keep so many details in my head and partially because my memory can be, well, a trifle faulty. For example, many people—myself included—were convinced spring arrived earlier this year. However, looking back over the journal, I discovered my plants appeared precisely at the same time they came up last year—in fact, a few of my plants sprung up earlier last year than they did this year.
A Garden Journal Keeps Track of Plants
This journal also informs me when I began fertilizing the roses last year. This year I clearly marked down how much organic rose fertilizer I used at the end of March—60 pounds—so that I will know how much to order next January, thereby taking out all the guesswork.
Last year I expressed reservations about my new rose, ‘Bonica’, whereas this year she is performing well. I need constant reminding that during the first year many plants are concentrating on their root development rather than making me happy with their appearance. I also mark down when I put in the new plants so I will know whether a particular plant is still sleeping or creeping or whether it should be leaping. Also last year I was given the assignment to write an essay on the topic of gardening, in which case the gardening journal came in handy.
I have several new questions this year: When will the maroon leaves on my Japanese maple turn green and when will they revert back to the original maroon color? For its first five years, my smoke tree, Cotinus coggygria, refused to smoke. Last year it delighted me with its performance but, alas, I failed to note in the garden journal when it bloomed. This year—so far—it has shown no signs of smoking. Is it early or late or is it just refusing to flower this year?
It is now so easy to take pictures of the garden that these should also be added to the journal. For instance, I bought a 1½-foot tall windmill palm probably around ten years ago. Today, this baby is a proud 18-foot high adult. I’d really like to know how long it took to reach its present height and had I taken a picture of it and put it in the journal, this knowledge would be at my fingertips.
It’s a big help to enter which hardy amaryllises performed well—and which ones didn’t. Something is eating the leaves of my dahlias: Did this occur last year or is it something I should worry about? Which lilies need staking? Lilies can be so deceptive as they look as though they’re growing straight up on sturdy stalks until the day you walk outside only to discover they are almost perpendicular to the ground.
Did you like a particular combination of plants together? Last year I planted Clematis ‘Sapphire Indigo’ near a rose campion, Silene coronaria—and totally forgot about the clematis as it did very little. This year it suddenly came to life and has draped itself through the rose campion, a dynamite grouping to my jaundiced eye. By January, I will have undoubtedly forgotten about this lovely combination but a quick perusal of the journal will refresh my memory.
Garden journals are not literary journals. Garden journals exist solely to inform you—the gardener—as to what happened during previous growing seasons. Accompanied by photographs, this could easily give you the memory jolt that you might need when you start lusting over garden catalogs in January.
And rest assured: If my smoke tree smokes—or doesn’t smoke—during this growing season, I shall carefully notate this in my journal.
Featured image – Clematis “Sugar Sweet Blue’ – Brushwood Nursery
Kit Flynn has been an Extension Master Gardener in Durham for 13 years. Besides being a compulsive gardener in Chapel Hill, she also writes gardening articles for the Durham County Extension Master Gardener newsletter and for “Senior Correspondent,” an online magazine.