For the record

Kathryn Decker/Flickr

Kathryn Decker/Flickr

If you make one resolution this year, let it be to keep a garden journal. It may sound old-fashioned, but keeping good records of your gardening adventures is as helpful today in the 21st century as it ever was.

No tool is more useful than a blow-by-blow account of which plants did well, which failed, where they came from and where they got to. In this busy world, it’s too easy to forget the small details – and in gardening as in other endeavors, details count.

A journal can help you expand on your victories and minimize your defeats as the years go by. Who doesn’t want to grow wiser, as well as older?

You’ll be able to anticipate bug invasions and take preventive measures. You’ll know what to expect from your edibles by recording harvest dates and yields. You’ll be able to calculate fertilizer use, track unusual weather and record special preferences of particular species.

The cold weather months are an ideal time to start your journal – we’re in the lull when the last season has ended and spring fever has not yet set in. Decide what to record and how, and you’ll start accumulating information that will help you create better gardens. Even if you just compile a list of plants you grow and their locations, think what a gift that would be to the next owner of your home.

You don’t have to be a literary genius to keep a journal and it doesn’t even have to be in book form with a narrative like a standard diary. This document is for you, so use whatever method suits you best.

You can simply jot notes on a calendar, marking down planting dates, germination times and when plants were transplanted, fertilized or sprayed. You can use accordion files, loose-leaf binders, photo albums or scrapbooks to round up your gardening data. In any bookstore, you can find bound notebooks with blank pages as well as purpose-made garden journals with gardening tips and inspirational verse. Even a shoe box is better than nothing.

If you’re comfortable with computers, try on-line journal software at Dave’s Garden or Folia. Click on “Printables” at, and you can print out garden journal templates already marked out in tables to record bloom times for perennials, weather data, a customized calendar of garden chores and more.

What should you put in your journal? First, pin down your site by making a sketch of your property and the garden beds in it. It’s handy to note patterns of sun and shade, prevailing winds and sites where plants face challenging conditions – dry soil, road pollution or exceptional moisture, for instance.

Take inventory, making a list of plants you have, including names of specific varieties if you know them. Try to discover each plant’s proper botanical name so that you can look up cultural information with confidence. A “lily” may not be a plant of the genus Lilium, but a poser like daylilies, found among the genus Hemerocallis. Note where each species is planted and update your journal if you transplant.

It’s easy to record new purchases if you keep copies of all of your plant orders in one place. Jot down the cultural requirements of each species so you’ll have it at hand when plants arrive. You can cut descriptions from catalogs if you’re doing this scrapbook-style, or lift them from on-line catalogs if you’re working on a computer.

Enter your planting data, including when you started seeds or set in plants from the garden center. Note bloom schedules so you can coordinate those glorious flower combinations that you had in mind. It’s easier to achieve the effects you’re after if you know with some precision when plants flowered in your yard.

More suggestions? Record weather conditions to help figure out if drought, heavy rains or unusual cold played a role in plant failures Create a personalized schedule of jobs so you’ll remember when it’s time to prune the roses or divide the irises. Track soil and fertilizer preferences so you can develop an effective regimen. Note when insect pests arrived and whether your counter-measures worked.

Finally, jot down your personal observations, which you’ll treasure in years to come. Don’t be afraid to record your reactions to success and failure, to the joys and woes of your gardening year. Go ahead and wax rhapsodic about the pleasures of nature and your little piece of it.

You’ll come to see that it’s not just the garden that grows, but the soul of the gardener that matures and blossoms over time. Let your garden record-keeping be a practical tool, but also let it be the history and biography of a gardener – you.