Why Keep A Gardening Journal?

A garden journal can add to your gardening success and enhance your enjoyment of your gardening activities. Depending on how much effort you want to spend on the journal, it can record as little as what you planted and when. At the other extreme, it can record every minute activity you perform in your gardens, such as trimming, fertilizing, watering, and recording rainfall, temperature, and hours of sunlight. It’s up to you, how much information, or how little, you keep. It also depends on what you expect to do with the information later. I had some correspondence with one gardener who pooh-poohed the need for any kind of journal. This gardener wrote notes on activities and kept them in a big plastic bag for retrieval, should the need arise. Fortunately, there’s lots of room in gardening from every point of view. It depends on what you want.

Journal Types

There are several general types of garden journals, and you should consider which one will likely meet your needs the best.

Shoebox

This broad category includes everything from nuts to bolts, kept in a shoebox, bag, storage box, or any other format where retrieval is on a ‘dive-in’ basis. This type of journal works best for people who want to save ‘stuff’, just in case, but have no idea what they’ll do with it.

Garden Planner

This type of garden journal includes current gardening information and planning tools such as garden layouts, visual references such as pictures, and detailed information about bloom time, requirements, color, and design issues as well as gardening activities and observations.

Garden Organizer

The garden organizer journal is grouped by plant type or location, by color or season, or in another way that makes sense to you. Contents are organized in the chosen order, rather than recorded sequentially in date order.

Personal Journal

The best example of this a personal diary. For each day that you choose to make an entry, you start a new line right after your last entry. You make entries daily, weekly, or as you get to them. Usually, pictures and additional information are not included.

Photo Album

For avid photographers or gardeners who want to look at their garden even in the winter, this form of garden journal lets you store garden pictures, plant details, and activities. A popular use of this style of the journal is to take digital photos of your plants through each stage of their growth, inserting new pages as required. This can provide you with a visual image of what your perennials look like when they emerge from the spring soil, vs. what weeds look like so that you remove the weeds only.

Record Keeper

The record keeper format permits the most detail to be kept on each and every plant in your garden. It will likely include complete plant details, all activities, and permit as much detail as you want to enter. This style need not be in a binder but could be index cards in a shoebox, in alphabetical order, for example. It could also utilize an address card filing system.

Journal Styles

Diary Style Garden Journal

The diary style follows the format of a regular bound diary. The pages are usually unformatted so that you can write as much, or as little as you wish for each day, or skip days without skipping pages. Your notes are written in chronological order. While you can tape seed packets and pictures into this style journal, they will eventually over-fill the book and make it unattractive. This style is best if you want to simply record your activities and observations.

Formatted, Bound Style Garden Journal

This style garden journal may be formatted with a space allowed for each day, with specific contents related to gardening, or in other ways. It is bound so that you cannot insert pages afterward. Notes are in chronological order. Again, an addition of enough seed packets and pictures will make the book very bulky.

Loose-leaf Style Garden Journal

This format of garden journal utilizes lined or unlined loose-leaf paper as its base. Its main advantage is that you can insert pages at a later time. Why would this matter? Well, if you want to keep all entries regarding a specific plant together, as some gardeners do, you will need to either insert pages as required or leave a lot of room after the initial entry, which looks really silly until it fills up. This is also a nice cheap method to create a do-it-yourself garden journal. See our instructions for a sample homemade garden journal. You can also use your word processing software to create and maintain your garden journal. Use of backgrounds like gardenjournal.gif will let you customize the appearance of your journal.

Web-based Style Garden Journal

There are numerous services for creating and maintaining a garden journal on the internet. With these services, your journal is readily available online to you at any time, and many services are free. A selection of templates is usually provided by the service, for you to customize your entries to suit your taste and needs, and you can choose to share your journal with others or keep it private. The advantages of this type of journal include your participation in an online community, and the ease of use, once you get used to them. The disadvantages include the need to be on the internet to make your garden entries or refer to past entries. Most services do allow printing of your journal.

Computer Program Garden Journal

This style of a journal is useful for the gardener who wants to look at gardening activities in a variety of different ways. For example, to see all activities for a specific plant, or all activities of a specific nature (eg fertilizing), as well as activities by date. Most computer garden journals also include a section for detailed plant records, as well. You will usually be able to print all plant records and journal entries in a variety of different sort orders, depending on how you will use your journal. You can also add entries out of date order. The Garden Management System gardening software includes a garden journal. With this program, you can view journal entries for with each plant, in date order, and in a variety of other sort orders. You can also print a page for each plant that includes plant characteristics and details, as well as all journal entries for that plant, as shown in the sample plant report.

What to Record

You can record as much, or as little as you want, in your garden journal. Just make sure it’s a fun activity, rather than a chore. Some suggestions for the kinds of information you may want to include are:

  • planting dates for seeds and plants
  • transplanting dates
  • source and cost for plants and seeds
  • any guarantees and location of bills (if needed)
  • weather particulars such as rainfall, frost dates, and results
  • plant characteristics, date of germination, a date they emerge in spring, the appearance of blooms
  • date of harvest (for vegetables) or cut flowers taken
  • date and type of fertilizer or other chemicals applied, and to which plants
  • observations

Garden Journal Sections

You may find it helpful to divide your garden journal into sections. As with all the other choices you’ll make regarding your journal, your choice of sections depends on how much information you plan to keep. Think about the gardening information you currently keep, and why you might consider a change. Then consider how to achieve this. Here are some possibilities to choose from.

  • seed packets – included with plant detail record or in a separate section
  • pictures – throughout the season or at peak bloom, included with plant detail or in a separate section
  • reference materials – articles, magazines, book list, and comments, any course materials
  • garden plan – to scale on graph paper, or drawn free-hand, laying out beds and plantings
  • daily activities
  • wish list – plants to consider for the future, possible architectural considerations like a pergola, hut, water feature or dry river bed
  • dried blooms
  • inspiration thoughts
  • websites you like and why
  • recipes for your garden harvest
  • supplier notes – who you like and who you don’t
  • costs – keeping all your gardening costs together can be an eye-opener at the end of the year, which can be a good thing or a very, very bad thing, depending on your viewpoint
  • Instructions for a Homemade Garden Journal

  • What You’ll Need

    You can include or exclude, any of the materials listed. We’ve included the purpose of each material so you can decide if you need it or not.

  • material for front and back covers. We suggest construction paper or something heavier. If you’ve got it, a water resistant material would be nice.
  • graph paper for your overall garden plan and individual garden bed plans
  • full-page vinyl pocket pages, 3-hole punched, for articles
  • vinyl pocket pages with up to 4 pockets, for multiple pictures, 3-hole punched
  • photo album pages – 3-hole punched
  • 3-hole punched lined paper for notes
  • tabbed dividers – monthly if you plan to keep your journal in date order, or blank for you to design your own dividers
  • something to keep your pen and pencil in, while you’re in the garden
  • a means for holding your garden journal pages together, which might be a binder, ribbon, raffia or anything else that appeals to you.
  • different colors of paper for different seasons, or for different purposes, as you wish, making it easier to find things if your journal will be a fatty
    • journal paper – this can be plain white, lined, or designer stationery, formatted or unformatted – this is what you will use for your notes.

      How to Get Started

      If you have a large existing garden, it may seem overwhelming to begin keeping records, now. Where to start!

      • Begin with a rough hand-drawn garden plan, laying out your garden beds. We suggest one plan for the front yard and a second for the back yard. Do a third plan if you have substantial side yards.
      • Transfer the individual beds on your main plan to separate pieces of paper, and tackle each bed individually. It breaks up the task and lets you actually accomplish something.
      • Map groupings of plants, rather than individual plants, and make it really rough. You can do more detailed, scaled versions later.
      • If you plan to keep records of each plant or type of plant, you’ll want to create a separate page for each plant species in your garden, and record where they’re located as well as their descriptions, proper names, and as much information as you now know about them. Begin with a separate page for each, and fill them in later.
      • Take pictures of plants. If you have a digital camera, it’s a lot less costly over time, and you can take pictures willy-nilly, then pull them out later. Otherwise, at least, take pictures when they’re in full bloom.
      • Record your activities, including the creation of the journal.

      As a general rule, it’s a lot easier to get started and keep motivated as you begin your journal if you split big tasks into a lot of manageable little tasks.

      Garden Journal Templates

      We’ve included a few samples of garden templates you may find useful. Most are very basic and can be created using MS Word or any other word processor. You can be as fancy or as simple as you want. Just click on the link and either views the template in Word or download the template for free.

      2-box plain template
      named 2-box plain template
      plant detail garden journal template
      plant detail with clipart garden journal template

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3 thoughts on “Why Keep A Gardening Journal?

  1. Very interesting post. If the journal at the top is yours, it is beautifully done. I use 3-ring binders with lined notebook paper. Not nearly as elegant as yours but efficient. I have one as a daily journal to record activities, weather, etc. The potager has its own journal with maps, plant lists, seed lists, planting dates, notes, reminders on a calendar for succession plantings, harvest info, etc. The flower borders and beds are in a third journal, with photos of bulbs (I record bloom times so I know which bulbs to order again, esp tulips.) bloom dates, notes for improvements, maps, etc. Amazing how often I refer to them, especially as I age and the memory isn’t as sharp!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Carolee, and, yes, that is one of my journals. You and I share the same journal habits, close detail to every aspect of our precious plants. Growing peppermint, spring and summer wheat, grasses for seed, and borage for industrial use has taught us to keep precise detail every season. I started using old ‘DayTime’ planners for each. A friend brought me a box full of them from yard sales, donations, etc. Became quite handy! If it was not for keeping precise record via journals I could not remember ‘everything’ as well, I would be in big trouble! Thank you again, Carolee.

      Like

    • P.S. Investing in a laminate saved many journals and their content from severe water damage and damage from falling off the fenders and out of the cab of combines into mud, muck!

      Like

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