If you love to garden, but are having a difficult time remembering what you planted, what you want to plant, and what needs to be done, garden journaling is a wonderful way to keep you on track. First thing you need? A journal. You can use a a 3-ring binder, a notebook, a planner, a commercial garden journal, or even a digital app. Some people like to carry their journal around the garden, so look for durable materials that will hold up against a little water or soil. I prefer to doodle in mine before bed, so it doesn't need to be particularly tough.
What should you write in your journal?
The content of your journal will depend on what kind of gardening you do. I like to dabble in a little bit of everything so I have a journal section designated for garden design ideas, another for seeding starting, a maintenance list, and a plant inventory. The garden design section is my favorite. Here I doodle and add rough sketches of garden vignettes, playing around with different plant combinations. I'm not a skilled artist, and my sketches wouldn't make sense to other people, but they are helpful for me in determining how I might change the layout of a bed. Sometimes I add measurements of the space, so I can figure out how many plants I would need to fill the area. You can use sheets of graph paper to draw your designs to scale.
In the seed-starting section, I record what seeds I've sown and whether they were successful. Sometimes I describe the conditions for germination and how many of the seeds sprouted. Some seeds require cold stratification, scarification, or heat, and I like to make a note of those in case I try growing those seeds again.
On the maintenance list, I write down what I want to accomplish during each season. For example, on my fall list, I recently added these tasks: mulch new plants with compost, bring in ceramic containers, and empty bird fountain. It feels good to cross tasks off my list as I complete them! I also like to break the tasks down by garden area to help me remember where the task is needed. I name different areas of my garden like "tropical garden", "woodland path", "cacti and succulent collection", "rock garden", and "Japanese sitting garden" for easy reference. Do you name your garden spaces too?
The plant inventory has been one of the most important parts of my garden journal. I write down the scientific name of every plant that comes into my garden. I subdivided this section by plant category, not genus, to make things simpler. Here are the current sections: shade perennials, sun perennials, conifers, other trees, shrubs, grasses, bulbs, and succulents. You can also include the planting date, bloom and harvest times, and sun, water, and soil needs, especially for the more unusual or fussy plants. I ended up moving my list to the computer so I could alphabetize it and print out copies for visitors when I give garden tours. I'll admit that a map showing the location of each plant would be handy, but I grow over 600 different plants, so a map would be hard to keep updated.
Here are some examples of other items you might record in your journal, such as where you sowed a few seeds or where you transplanted those daylilies.
Depending on your garden interests and goals, you may want to include information on pests, diseases, and their treatments, harvest dates, soil test results, and pruning history. Keeping these records can be useful for tracking when a pest appeared and what you used to treat it, or to remind yourself when and how to prune a particular tree or shrub. Likewise, I often refer back to my soil tests to make decisions about what fertilizer to use or which plants might grow best in my native soil.
You may also want to record information about the weather patterns that season; was the past summer hot and dry, did your area experience record low temperatures, or was the spring particularly wet that year? These notes can help diagnose any growing problems, like dieback of a shrub, or a bad case of powdery mildew.
As you start journaling, you may want to check out some books about gardening for inspiration. I enjoy books with lots of pictures and information about different garden styles. Some of my favorites include Plant-Driven Design by Lauren Springer Ogden, Designing with Plants by Piet Oudolf, The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd and The Dry Garden by Beth Chatto. Let us know if you have any favorites we should check out!
Once you get into the habit of writing in your garden journal, you'll likely feel more focused when you're in the garden and spend your time more efficiently. It is also fun to look back at how your garden and ideas about gardening have evolved over the years. Fancy gardening journals can be fun to look through, but they may not be right for the information you are interested in capturing. Every gardener has their own goals and interests, so no two gardening journals will look alike. Don't worry if the entries aren't perfect or have gaps; have fun making observations and planning your dream garden!