Garden journals

Sunday, 04 May 2014

My very first and my current garden journals

I have been trying to declutter my house in recent months, throwing out a lot of accumulated possessions that are of no use to anyone. However, one particular crate of apparent 'junk' had to be kept: that containing 30 years of my garden journals. A motley collection of assorted exercise books, hardback ledgers and spiral-bound notepads, they tell the story of my gardening odyssey.

Pansies were one of the first plants I grew

When I began the first book, in April 1984, I'd had a garden for about two years and it was comprised of plants bought from the local nursery along with cuttings from my parents' Blue Mountains garden. I solemnly recorded every plant I had growing - a medley of annuals, along with a few shrubs and perennials, with no rhyme or reason to their planting. At that stage, anything that actually grew simply enthralled me, but I loved annuals because they grew quickly and didn't take too long to flower. I pompously opined my 'theories' of gardening - which make for entertaining reading three decades later!

Billbergia vittata from the garden of my parents in the Blue Mountains

I knew few plant names, and plants in the journal were referred to as 'blue-flowering shrub' or 'groundcover thing'. I knew no other gardeners at that time, but shortly afterwards I joined a local garden club, and soon the journal entries included references to some of the people I had met and the plants they gave me, and gardens I visited with the club. There were a number of very experienced and knowledgeable gardeners in the club and they very kindly took me under their wing and taught me much. Very gradually, I began to learn the proper names of some of the plants - this eventually led to an obsession with correct Latin names, all recorded faithfully in my garden journals. Gardening tips and techniques that were passed on to me or which I read about were all jotted down: how to sow seeds, how to take cuttings, how to mulch ... Later I joined other groups and met gardeners who have become dear friends over the years and whose plants have enriched my garden beyond measure.

Campanula poscharskyana, one of the first plants I learned the name of; still in my garden today

I began to read a wide variety of gardening books, and I wrote down useful information I had gleaned from these books in my journal, even quite lengthy quotes from some of the books. I drew endless diagrams of how the garden looked and how I wanted it to look in the next year. I recorded what new plants I had put in, plants I wanted to get one day and plants I had promised to give other people. I was desperate to have an English-style cottage garden - all the rage in the 1980s. Many of the plants I wanted to grow were - in retrospect - hilariously unsuited for the Sydney climate, but try most of them I did, and reported back to my journal on how they had performed. As the years rolled by, I eventually worked out what thrived and what didn't, and had some epiphanies - such that plants from warmer climates did better in Sydney than plants from cold climates! This should have been pretty obvious from the start, but when I began gardening, the ideal was the cool-climate garden and many of us tried to emulate this. In the 1990s, there was a burgeoning interest in tropical-style planting and this helped me explore many plants I had never grown before, with greater success.

After a few years, I found I was looking beyond the individual plants and wanting to combine them together to form pleasing garden pictures, and realising that the structure of the garden is equally - if not more - important than the plants themselves. I noted in my journals planting combinations that I liked in gardens that I visited, design ideas, colour pairings - sometimes just a scrawl, but enough to remind me of what it was that had taken my eye. I laboriously recorded what flowers were out each week - these seemingly dull lists became a mine of information for planning plant groupings (to have things in bloom at the same time) and for finding out which flowers go on valiantly for ages and which are over with in a very short time. The diagrams and planting lists document the development over 10 years of our first garden, and over 20 years of our current garden.

There are garden journals like this available to buy

My current garden journal follows pretty much the same pattern as its predecessors - lists of wanted plants, plants I have promised to give people (ticked off when done so), interesting garden-related places to visit, ideas for planting ... It is probably those fleeting ideas that are the most valuable - jotted down when they appear in my mind. It may take years, but one day I might put them into practice. I still try to record every plant purchase - now I stick the plant labels into the journal itself. I seem to be using the journal more like a scrapbook at times - pasting in all sorts of things, such as pictures of plants torn from magazines, photos of plants and gardens, empty packets of seeds I have planted, even cards sent to me from other gardeners. I still note the date and place of planting for each new specimen - an essential reference for when forgetfulness strikes! I also keep rainfall records every year in my garden journals.

I believe all gardeners should think about keeping a journal. It may be of interest to no one but ourselves, but it is a wonderful record of our pursuit of our engrossing hobby.

Reader Comments

  • By Jan 2582 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 05 May 2014

    That was lovely, thanks Deidre. I have pages of notes here and there were I attempt a diary, but I"ve found I just don"t have the time. So instead every few weeks I get out with the camera and take a photo diary. One day I"ll have the time to make better notes from that as at least I"ll know how long the plants have been in, how they do with each season and when they flower. I did take a lot of photos as well. When my kids were little, I had no time for writing in the journal but the photos were a good record, especially with our current garden, which was started from scratch. Deirdre

  • By Georgia 4107 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 05 May 2014

    This is so interesting Deidre. An evolutionary tale of sorts about your gardening life. I also take photos. I use the Mt Cootha Botanical Gardens, Roms St Parkland and Indigiscapes at Redland for plant identification then I take a photo of the plant growing in an environment that I hope to translate to my own garden. Light, shade, soil, drainage. I keep a word doc going on my computer and add new plant purchases to it as well as information I find useful. I think in the digital age more people will use computer methods for keeping garden records - unimaginable to me 30 years ago! Deirdre

  • By Rebecka 2481 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 05 May 2014

    Oh I love this. Diedre, I can place myself (a new gardener - about 5 years worth and everything still in pots!) exactly standing in paragraph 3. I pompously opine, I am starting to care what my plants" latin names are, I"ve mastered cuttings, yet can"t yet germinate a seed. I draw aerial maps of my "current garden" and overlay a "future garden" over the top.I"ve an excel spreadsheet for data-keeping and a pile of kept plant tags etc. But a garden journal? No. And right you are! I"ll grab one. How wonderful to hear that, Rebecka. I still remember the excitement of it all when that was me! Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 05 May 2014

    I tried this once Deirdre but failed. I"m just not the journal kind although my mother kept a diary all her life. Funnily enough I"ve embraced facebook and love posting images and short comments. My timeline is a record of garden happenings. For someone who once cringed at the thought of social media this is a real turnaround. It"s also improved my photography 100%. I see my garden differently and am having fun. That is fab, Peta. I must say that this website evolved from a need to centralise what I had learned over the years and the blogs also are a diary of sorts! But I cannot let go of those notebooks from the pre-digital age just yet! Deirdre

  • By Christine 2429 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 05 May 2014

    My first comment online~~~love your site, started a garden journal abut 12 yrs ago when first moved to farm, forgot about it but restarted about 3 yrs ago. Great to look back on, compare weather situations and plant growth, and also plants/cuttings for others and placement in the garden. Esp. salvias and older type roses. Keep labels in a photo album and remove deceased ones every couple of years. Chris. Thanks for your feedback, Christine. Yes it is quite sad when you see your labels of plants that haven"t made it. I had a whole box of those once! But it did help me understand what did and didn"t survive well in my climate. Glad you find your garden journal useful. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 05 May 2014

    Could relate entirely to your keeping of a garden journal, I have kept one on, and off for many years. I usually enter daily records, of things planted, when plants have been fed, and with what, weather conditions, time of flowering, and how much produce was picked; from whom I received a special plant/cutting, etc. I find it an invaluable record of garden work, and often look back to see what was happening when. Your journal sounds very comprehensive, Margaret! The observations of our own gardens that we make are so valuable for learning more about plants and gardening, I think. Deirdre

  • By gillian 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 06 May 2014

    Can you provide a link to these open gardens - cant find it anywhere on Google - thanks Gillian

    There is no online information but for Sydney readers please see under Local Places & Events on this site for address and times.

  • By lillian 3951 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Thursday, 08 May 2014

    What a great way to start the day, reading yet another wonderful article! I keep thinking it would be great to use technology to keep track of my thousands of bit of info- but since I never organised those anyway, I don"t think I"ll start now. Cheers and many thanks for the entertainment. Thanks, Lillian. By nature, I prefer paper records to electronic! Deirdre

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