What varieties of tomatoes did you plant last year? What was the variety that did so poorly? Are those ‘Pink Charm’ or ‘Pink Pride’ daffodils by the front gate? Which pecan tree is ‘Kiowa’ and which is ‘Pawnee?’ When did the peach tree bloom last year? When was the first frost in 2003?
If you have the same trouble remembering things as I do, consider keeping a garden journal. It will allow you to record the progress of your garden and be more successful as you compare notes and information from previous years and eliminate some of the guesswork that gardeners do too often. When you take some of the guesswork out, you will save time, money and effort.
You need not admit to faulty memory to start keeping a record. Tell your friends you are recording things for posterity, not because you are forgetful. (Although ordering another 50 red tulips when you hadn’t planted the last 50 you ordered may not help your argument, especially when you only had room for 25 to begin with!)
Record when you sow seeds so you sow them at the right time next year. Keep track of when you fertilize so that you don’t apply too much. It is especially important that you record what varieties of fruit or nut trees you plant. They often have specific cross-pollination needs, so it is imperative you replace one you lose with the proper variety.
Keep copies of your orders from seed catalogs and mail-order nurseries. These will be helpful if there is a problem with your order as well as documenting what you bought and when you bought it.
Make a diagram of your garden and include it. You can sketch where you have planted all your bulbs to keep you from accidentally slicing them in two with a shovel. Labels will help prevent this, but permanent labels can be expensive and too many labels make a garden look littered.
Observe things in the wild as well as in other gardens. Record when things begin and when they quit blooming. This information will be valuable when you are designing a garden. A record will help you plan for continuous bloom and help you avoid color clashes between flowers that bloom at the same time.
Include photographs in your journal. Be sure to identify and date them. Photographing a barren landscape may seem like a waste of film, but you will appreciate that photograph after your garden is established. It will give you a sense of pride and encourage others that a small tree or shrub will indeed grow. All of your photographs and record-keeping can be inspirational for yourself and for others as you review the changes and successes and even the failures over the years. (Yes, failures can be inspirational, too, when we persevere in spite of them.)
Think how proud your children will be to have a photograph of them standing beside the tiny apple tree you planted when they and the apple tree are fully grown. You can also include drawings your children and grandchildren make of the garden. Although these will be more of sentimental than informative value, you will value them nonetheless.
One of the most valuable garden records I have is not in any of my journals. It is a painting of a dear friend’s garden done by one of his neighbors in 1987. When he passed away in November, his family let me have it. I put it over my desk at work to remind me of him and to inspire me. It inspired me to write this column.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.