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Gardening 101: Why You Need a Garden Journal and How to Keep One

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As a gardening enthusiast, one can attest that although excellent resources can aid in learning and growth, the most valuable gardening lessons are derived from hands-on experience.

Keeping a garden journal is an effortless and entertaining method of keeping track of your garden’s progress throughout the seasons and learning from it as time passes.

Your journal need not be elaborate; you can view it as your garden diary or create it per your preference.

Previously, basic garden journaling involved noting spring planting dates, first and last frosts, and the types of varieties planted.

However, with global warming resulting in frequent and extreme weather events and the emergence of new pathogens and pests, keeping meticulous records in a season-to-season garden journal is now more critical than ever.

When it comes to climate change, it is difficult to determine the sustainability or resilience of your garden with a single measure. However, by tracking multiple data points in a garden journal, you can identify potential new issues and adapt your practices accordingly.

Keeping a garden journal is an enjoyable and rewarding activity. If you keep your seed packets, plant tags, or garden center receipts, you already have the foundation of a garden journal, and you’re just a few steps away from creating a comprehensive record of your garden.

This article provides garden journal ideas that will allow you to learn from your successes and mistakes and enhance your gardening skills.

What Is a Garden Journal?

As a gardening expert, I can confidently explain that a garden journal is a written record of your garden’s journey. You can maintain your garden journal in any notebook or note cards organized into a file.

A ring binder is often the preferred choice for many, as it allows for the insertion of sheets of graph paper, calendar pages, pockets for your seed packets, plant tags, and pages for photographs.

By keeping a garden journal, you will have a written account of your garden layouts, plans, successes, and failures, and you will learn about your plants and soil as you progress.

For vegetable gardeners, tracking crop rotation is a critical function of the journal. Planting the same crop in the exact location every time exhausts the soil and encourages pests and diseases. Many vegetables should be grown on a three to five-year rotation schedule.

Your garden layout sketches are a valuable planning aid from year to year, preventing you from planting the same crop in the exact location and preserving the soil’s nutrients.

Keeping a garden journal is an invaluable tool for every gardener. It helps to track your progress and learn from your mistakes and serves as a planning aid for future endeavors. It is a fun and fulfilling activity that can help you grow into an expert gardener.

What Is a Garden Journal?
Photo: Bailey Van Tassel

Benefits of Keeping a Garden Journal

A garden journal is more than just a record of your tasks and successes. It is a place to track the progress of your plants, capture the joys of unexpected visitors like songbirds and pollinating insects, and document the arrival and control of unwelcome pests.

By noting botanical names, lists of annual flowers, vegetable varieties, and other details, you can easily organize and recall information about your garden.

Moreover, garden journals can serve as a valuable tool in garden planning, helping you avoid common pitfalls and replicate your successes yearly.

With a garden journal, you can keep track of your gardening tasks, such as when you planted your vegetable seeds or the name of that extra-tasty garlic you plan to grow in the fall.

By recording this information, you can avoid losing track of essential details in the busy gardening season. Additionally, garden journals can help you identify patterns and connections between your gardening struggles and successes.

For instance, by tracking weather patterns and noting when black spot disease attacked your roses, you can better understand how to use preventive fungicide treatments to avoid similar issues in the future.

Benefits of Keeping a Garden Journal
Photo: he Micro Gardener

Garden journals also record the welcome and unwelcome visitors to your garden, allowing you to document their activities, favorite plants, and effective control methods. Tracking this information will enable you to prepare for future visits and plan your garden accordingly.

Lastly, if you ever sell your house, a garden journal can serve as a record of your garden for the new owners, providing them with valuable information about your plants and gardening techniques.

Different Types of Garden Journals

Keeping a garden journal has never been easier with the plethora of options available to gardeners today. From simple pen and paper to electronic apps, there’s a perfect fit for every style and budget.

A journal doesn’t have to be fancy – it can be as simple as a single sheet of paper or as elaborate as a handmade scrapbook, complete with pockets for holding images, sketches, and seed packets, and even places for pressing keepsake leaves.

If you prefer a ready-made journal, there are plenty of options on the market, with or without prompts and dates, featuring inspiring images, gardening tips, and suggested garden tasks.

With a quick search on the internet, you’ll find many electronic garden journal apps and other alternatives that can be customized to suit your garden and your journaling plans.

Types of Garden Journals
Photo: The Micro Gardener

There are two types of garden journals: handwritten and electronic. Handwritten garden journals are perfect for those who enjoy the physical act of writing and want to keep a tangible record of their gardening experiences.

If you are unsure where to start, a garden journal with prompts can guide you. If you compare your garden year-to-year, consider a journal with room for several years of information or one that can be used for a decade.

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A spiral notebook or three-ring binder with photo sleeve pages is an easy way to get started, and a weatherproof notebook is a good choice if you plan to take your garden journal outside.

Electronic garden journals are an excellent option for those who prefer paperless. You can use simple Word documents and Excel spreadsheets or the numerous apps available to help you organize your gardening data.

Seed to Spoon and Planter are excellent choices for tracking what you’re growing and harvesting. At the same time, Trello is a versatile app that can track anything, including collaboration, if more than one person is journaling about the garden.

When choosing an app or program, select one you’re comfortable using and combine electronic information with handwritten notes.

A printed copy may be helpful if you stop using the app, and some information, like shopping lists and task reminders, may be better kept on an app on your smartphone.

Whether you choose a handwritten or electronic journal, the important thing is to start documenting your gardening journey.

A garden journal is valuable for managing projects, building on your gardening knowledge, and seeing patterns and connections between struggles and success.

Keeping a record of your gardening tasks, successes, and unexpected results will help you stay ahead of the game and make it easy to find information when needed. Plus, if you ever sell your house, you’ll have a record of the garden that you can share with the new owners.

Tips for Keeping a Garden Journal

Garden journaling is a practice as diverse as the gardeners themselves who undertake it. Some keep detailed records of every garden activity, while others prefer a casual approach. Journaling aims to jot down whatever piques your interest, whether for reflection or sharing with others.

The potential appeal of your garden journal extends beyond yourself and could benefit friends or future gardeners. This is evidenced by Thomas Jefferson’s meticulous garden journals from the Revolution, which remain relevant and enjoyable centuries later.

If it suits your style, consider maintaining different journals or dividing a single journal into sections to document various aspects of gardening. This approach can simplify accessing the information you need.

For example, a section devoted to starting new plants from cuttings can make it easier to compare your success rate with different rooting hormones or start rose cuttings in spring versus fall.

Another section can track experiments with growing fruits and veggies or combining edibles with ornamental plants in edible landscapes.

Gardeners have varying approaches to journaling, with some recording their observations and thoughts every day, even during the winter months, while others log their garden activities weekly or even less frequently, summarizing everything at the end of the season. There are no strict rules regarding journaling, and any approach is valid.

If you’re interested in starting a garden journal, there’s no time like the present. Begin by capturing basic information, such as a list of your plants by name and location in the garden.

Take pictures of unfamiliar plants to identify later, gather plant labels and old seed packets, or take photos of them to keep in the journal. Create lists of vegetables you’d like to grow or have grown successfully.

Once you’ve recorded this information, determine what else you’d like to document about your garden, such as when you sow seeds, when they germinate, and when plants flower or produce a harvest.

Keeping a garden journal helps you appreciate how much you’ve accomplished and how your garden has evolved. If you’re not accustomed to journaling, start with a simple system you’re comfortable with and don’t worry about perfection.

Record information that you find helpful and skip the rest. And if you fall behind, don’t worry about filling in the gaps; start again where you are and keep moving forward.
When it comes to keeping a garden journal, there are no strict rules.

The key is to keep it simple and record something every day or so, as well as the essential details, as soon as possible so you don’t forget.

Keeping a Garden Journal
Photo: Better Homes & Gardens

Some things to include in your journal are a sketch of your garden layout from season to season, pictures of your garden, a list of thriving plants and those to avoid, bloom times, a list of plants you’d like to try, growing requirements, when you started seeds and transplanted plants, plant sources, expenses, and receipts, daily, weekly, and monthly observations, and dates when you divide your perennials.

Tracking Phenological Cues in a Garden Journal

In gardening, tracking planting and harvest dates has always been essential. However, with climate change wreaking havoc on traditional planting schedules, gardeners like Julia Frisbie are now turning to a new approach: tracking phenological cues.

As the owner and operator of Frisbie Farm in Anacortes, Washington, Frisbie has long relied on her garden journal to keep track of the goings-on in her micro-farm. But now, she’s taking it to the next level by tracking the natural cycles of the plants, birds, and insects around her.

This approach allows her to better understand the changing climate and make more informed decisions about planting and harvesting. As Frisbie says, “Dates are fine to log, too, as long as we’re aware that they’ll be less and less useful as climate chaos intensifies.”

In other words, it’s time for gardeners to take in new cues and adapt to the ever-changing world.

Tracking Phenological Cues in a Garden Journal
Photo: Hobby Farms

Phenological cues for ecosystem analysis

The natural world is filled with hidden messages waiting to be deciphered, and by observing various phenological cues, we can unlock the secrets of our local ecosystems.

Combining these observations with traditional gardening records can create a comprehensive and actionable snapshot of our environment. Through this method, we can predict the best time for planting and other agricultural activities more accurately.

Frisbie notes that she has succeeded more by paying attention to phenological cues. She recommends looking out for key species, such as the big leaf maples that bloom chartreuse flower clusters before their leaves.

Frisbie also observes blackberry blossoms, dogwood leaves, dandelion blooms, and the Indian plum’s little blossoms. She emphasizes that we can gather even richer information by considering the larger plant community around us.

Therefore, collecting as much data as possible is crucial so we’re not relying on a single individual or species.

The Value of Long-Term Observations

A gardener’s long-term focus and consistent recording of details can yield a treasure trove of information that allows for adaptation to the changes in their garden.

A prime example of this is Jeff Lowenfels, a garden writer who has been documenting the successes and failures of Alaskan gardeners in his column for over 40 years.

Through his observations, he has witnessed the effects of climate change on plant growth in Alaska and provides insight into the global impact of this phenomenon.

As a gardener, any amount of information is applicable, even if you don’t have years of data recorded. According to Frisbie, even an incomplete dataset is better than none. Life events such as illness or pregnancy can interrupt your record-keeping.

Still, Frisbie reconstructs notes as best she can and includes retrospective garden journal sections and year-in-review pages. This helps her evaluate the performance of different plant varieties and reflect on the overall success of the gardening season.

Filling in the Gaps

Consistency is critical in garden journaling, but life can get in. Frisbie recommends creating retrospective pages to compensate for lost time, even if your notes have month-long gaps.

These pages can include a year-in-review section that reflects on the growing season and the performance of different plant varieties. With a few notes about what worked and what didn’t, gardeners can make informed decisions about what to plant in the future.

So even if you don’t have a perfect record, don’t give up on journaling – it’s an invaluable tool for any gardener.

Gardening Memories: Documenting Your Garden’s Journey

Gardening is a labor of love, and keeping a record of your garden’s journey can be just as rewarding as watching your plants grow.

While a simple notebook or smartphone app can do the trick, a scrapbook or three-ring binder is more practical for including empty seed packets, soil test reports, and pressed leaf and flower specimens.

Photos are also an invaluable resource for documenting your garden’s evolution. Add panoramic photos of your garden on the first day of each season to your annual garden records.

This way, you can easily compare your garden’s performance from season to season and year to year.

Mapping out the locations of various crops and adding them to your garden journal is also a great idea. This helps you know what not to plant in certain areas and provides a better understanding of soil nutrients and insect pests.

For even more detail, overlay a sheet of tracing paper on your garden map or panoramic photo and shade areas with standing water or runoff during heavy rains. This can help you to monitor and mitigate topsoil loss.

Sharing your observations with others, especially future gardeners, is also essential. Pass your journals down to your kids, or make a plan to keep the information you collect in your space.

By documenting your garden’s journey, you’ll have a beautiful record of your hard work and valuable insights into how your garden and its world have changed over time.

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