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Why a Garden Journal Is a Useful Tool

[Photo: Photo by Artondra Hall (Flickr)]

[Photo: Photo by William Murphy (Flickr)]

[Photo: Photo by Steve Olmstead (Flickr)]

There is no doubt that winter is here, and gardening may be the furthest thing from your mind; however, winter can be the best time to make plans for the next gardening season, especially if you keep a garden journal. A garden journal can be as simple or detailed as you like: It could be a shoebox full of seed packets and notes, a notebook, a binder full of photos, notes, and diagrams, or a file of all kinds of information that you store on your computer. Garden journals are a valuable tool when it comes to figuring out what works and what doesn't in your garden. They can help you to detect patterns and remember important information from the previous season. Most of all, garden journals help you to remember the beauty and enjoyment of gardens past.

What Works and What Doesn't

In my opinion, the most important reason to keep a garden journal is to figure out what works and what doesn't. Keeping a record of what plants performed well and what plants did not will help you to plan for next season's garden. After all, you probably do not want to plant a mass of impatiens if they looked awful last season. Or you may decide that you need to move plants to a different location for better performance. Garden journals are an excellent help in remembering what plants you liked and what plants you did not. Maybe you want to look for better-tasting green beans this year or more disease-resistant tomatoes. Perhaps the tulips you planted were not what you expected and you want to replace them with something else. Documenting what pesticides and fertilizers were effective is another important task. You can forget a lot within a few months, but not if you have a garden journal. Within a few years, your garden will be a huge success largely due to your journal.

Location, Location, Location

Have you ever been surprised in the spring because you forgot you planted tulip bulbs in the midst of your perennials? It can be hard to remember what things you planted where when you can't see them. Seeds can also pose a challenge if not properly labeled. If you are new to gardening, it can be difficult to identify what a plant is merely by new foliage in the spring. I suggest that you include a diagram of your garden in your garden journal and label what you planted where; I also suggest that you include actual labels in the garden. You will thank yourself later. Including photos of the garden throughout the season is also a great idea. It can be difficult to remember what your garden looked like when the plants are cut back to the ground and blanketed in snow. Knowing what plant is where can help you to identify and move things around if you choose to in the spring or to remove certain plants entirely.

Identify the Pattern

Recording frost dates, rainfall, and temperatures over time can help you to predict weather patterns in your area. This will help you know what plants thrive in your location, when you should transplant seedlings outdoors, and when you will need to supply the most water to your plants, for example. These are just a few things you can learn by documenting patterns, but there are many, many more. Recording when plants begin to emerge, when they bloom, how long the blooms last, what wildlife they attract, and so on will take a lot of the mystery out of gardening the next season and make you a more knowledgeable gardener. If the rabbits are eating your flowers every year, maybe you need to look for rabbit-resistant varieties; if your tomatoes stay green every season, maybe you need to move them to a sunnier location or plant them in containers that you can place in the sun.

A Place for Reflection

A garden journal can contain whatever you want it to. You may want to record the prices of plants from the previous season, where you bought them, and how many you bought. This always helps me to know what to get and where. I even include receipts sometimes if I do not have time to write everything down. I like to sketch features that I would like to include in next season's garden, like ponds and landscaping. My garden journal always includes a big wish list of new cultivars and plants that I want to try. I take pictures to remember what my past gardens look like so that I can improve them or just so that I can remember what they were like when fall and winter come. A garden journal is a place for your imagination and knowledge to grow and flourish along with your garden.

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