Monday, January 27, 2014

Writiing it All Down

Writing It All Down: A  Garden Journal

 How do you keep track of what’s going on in your garden? I’ve seen everything from scrap paper tacked on the garden shed wall to elaborate spread sheets on the computer (horrors, who has time for that?).

I have always admired those beautifully done garden journals with charming little colored-pencil sketches and prose-y writing in a delicate hand. I can’t tell you how much I would love to do one of those, and how many I have started, only to have them disintegrate into a mess of lists, clippings, hasty sketches and stuffed full of would-be catalog orders and confirmations in a matter of weeks. By that time I have lost track of most of my colored pencils anyway and it’s a welter of skipped pages and crossed off bits because I can’t find my eraser and besides I’m writing in it in ballpoint pen. It’s got dirt on it from being dragged out into the garden, some of the pages are slightly wavy and a bit blurred from having gotten wet, and my scribbles have started to look like a Hobbit got hold of it and wrote something in Middle Earth language.

But I still persevere. I take it with me on garden tours, jotting down names of plants I covet and think I really must find, and it goes along to the nurseries and garden centers we visit and nearly every place else. It lives in my tote bag in the spring and summer, (along with my pruners and a small trowel) because, I never know when it might have to be consulted, or something written down. It’s filled with dry pressed flowers, lots of business cards, plant tags, sticky notes, a feather or two, hasty one-line thoughts I don’t want to forget for my blog or column, an occasional quote or poem that I find or write along the way, brochures, addresses of places I want to visit,  garden tours I don’t want to miss, notes for talks I have to give, and sundry other garden and nature bits and pieces.

My garden journal is truly one of my most valuable garden tools, especially with a garden this size.  I record when and what plants I’ve acquired, and I keep notes on what succeeded well (or too well!) and what plants were dismal failures, never to take up soil space again here. Then there are the interminable lists; we have over 500 hostas and when visiting a nursery I need to know that I’m not duplicating them. I keep track of the earliest blooming crocuses, the weather, plant combinations I see and want to try, changes I want to make, what needs divided or relocated. Spring to-do-lists are made in the fall and winter, fall lists in the spring, daily lists every day; not that we always get around to doing all of them. It’s my memory, my nudge when I get lazy, my dialogue with my garden world and the environment.


A garden journal need not be one of those fancy, prettily bound books from the bookstore, though you might write in it more often if it is. Mine is one of those 5”x 8” blank diaries, a good size to carry along; but it could be a spiral notebook, a sketch diary, a composition book, or even an old zippered Dayrunner that you don’t use any more. (Those are handy, stuff doesn’t fall out of them and you won’t lose your pencil.)  

I’ve divided my pages with tabs to make it easier to find what category I’m looking for, and glued an envelope to the inside back cover. I think that when this one is finally filled, my next one might be loose leaf so I can rip out pages and add new ones, maybe a pocket or two for all those bits and pieces that I keep poking in there, and a few of those plastic photo pages for clipped pictures.

And yes, I’ve actually considered trying to keep track of all my stuff on an iPhone—if I had one—but I couldn’t press flowers and leaves, or tuck feathers in it, and I would probably drop it in the pond or leave it out in the garden—so that thought flitted out of my mind as quickly as it went in.

Whatever form your garden journal takes really isn’t important; what matters is that you get into the habit of using it.  And before long, one will become such an indispensible part of your life that you’ll wonder how you ever knew what you were doing with anything in your garden without it.

“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”
Will Self

 Learn to be an observer in all seasons. Every single day, your garden has something new and wonderful to show you.

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant's point of view.
- H. Fred Ale



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