Whether you just need to jot down some notes or want to record those profound thoughts and ideas that life in the garden tends to provoke, a garden journal is essential gear, right there with the gardening tools. Come see why I rely so heavily on mine and how it has helped my life as a gardener.
For more ideas, see more creative and frugal DIY garden projects you can make.
Why You Need a Garden Journal
The most convincing thing I can say to persuade anyone to keep a garden journal is, it helps! I would be lost without my notes.
At its most basic level, a garden journal helps us remember what the heck we planted and when it was. To the very few who have excellent recall of life’s details and events, I envy you. The rest of us need to jot things down.
If we make the time, a garden journal can become a treasured and informative diary, filled with those funny and sometimes profound thoughts and ideas that run through our minds as we toil alone outside, far from the noise of the world. Seed sowing notes, pruning reminders, quotes, notes, photos, sketches, empty seed packets…. It’s a place to make personal art and memories however we desire. This is the time to put perfection aside, get real, and just do what you can.
In my case, it’s a notebook marked by muddy hands, hurried handwriting at the end of long day of work outside, and the desire to capture the practical, intriguing, ugly, and beautiful and make some sense of it. Which type of bean was planted, the seed source, how it tasted a few months later. How many monarchs came by on a July day. Which day the frogs first emerged from the pond in spring. When the wren babies first fledged. Which tomatoes were the sweetest? Why I moved the dwarf apple tree for the third time. In other words, anything and everything that seems meaningful in that moment and perhaps useful or amusing for future reference.
On a therapeutic level, keeping notes and photos of a garden over the years can be encouraging. When I started our newest garden from a bare lot, I felt like I was trying to lift a mountain over my head. But these photos, taken just a few years apart, told me it was slowly working. Not that I couldn’t tell, but seeing the evidence does make it more meaningful.
We Are All Phenologists
Are you familiar with the term phenology? It is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate. It sounds like a mouthful but it is something we all do to some degree. As corny as it sounds, all of nature works in harmony and phenology is our observances of this. With each event relying on scores of others ahead of it, we start to notice patterns in our gardens each season. The butterfly migrations are not going to arrive until the host plants needed for their larvae to survive are ready. And there must be a certain amount of light and warmth for the maple sap to start flowing. There are countless examples, of course.
Much of what I like to record in my garden journal is phenology. It is not only intriguing, but awareness of what works when and why can make you a better gardener. No sense planting the peas before the soil is warm enough for the seeds to grow.
I have written more about phenology here, plus there are two short videos that I really enjoyed.
Winter is the time when cold-climate gardeners pace inside their houses like wild cats in a cage, plotting, scheming, and dreaming about the growing season ahead.
This is also the time that I find myself pouring through old gardening notes to figure out which seeds to order, and reviewing garden photos to decide which plants to move, prune, get more of, or give away. I have lists of Canadian seed companies and American seed companies if you want to find a good supplier nearby.
Late winter is also the time to start seeds indoors for crops that benefit from a jump start like tomatoes. I love trying new heirloom seeds each year as well as growing a few favorites to ensure there will be fresh, delicious snacks in my gardening future. My notes tell me key details like germination rates so I know how many seeds I’ll need to start to ensure I have the desired number of plants.
A Good Basic Garden Journal
Garden Journal: My Planting History, Successes & Ideas
This garden journal was sent to me to review by Quarto Publishing Group.
A journal like this one is good for new gardeners who need some structure to help them organize their thoughts. I know when I started out, I was overwhelmed and made the mistake of keeping notes willy nilly on various scraps of paper, never to be seen again.
I highly recommend using a bound book and keeping it in a logical spot with a good pen. I keep mine right beside my garden tools on the covered patio—right where I find myself after working in the garden. That’s why it’s a bit messy but extraordinarily useful: I write the notes before I forget them. I also keep my phone in my back pocket and take a lot of photos as I work.
This garden journal is a hardcover book with a variety of sections for garden notes, to be filled in over the years as your garden unfolds.
There are guided sections for notes by month, plus sections for plant notes, problems and solutions, listing purchases, tools, favourite resources, plus pouches on the inside covers to hold empty seed packets and plant tags.
There are lined pages for notes, graph paper sections for sketching your garden, and plain pages for whatever you like.
Vintage seed packet art is featured throughout the journal.
Whatever you choose for your garden notes, the important part is to actually jot them down. Not only do I find encouragement in the progress I see, but I know the information has helped make me a better gardener—with the sweetest tomatoes.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛