Do you keep a gardening diary? You really, really should. I recently found myself in France without mine, having unaccountably left it behind in England, and it was positively scary. What was the name of that unusual buddleia I had planted? Where was I going to move those monardas to? Which willow was it that Helen Dillon said could and should be stooled to three feet each winter? I couldn’t remember but I knew I had it all written down in my precious little book. Even Louise with her encyclopaedic plant knowledge had to refer to her diary for the name of her incredible Euonymus planipes featured in her Great Plants this Month (we couldn’t resist pinching a picture from her column for the top of this blog).
I have kept a garden book-cum-diary ever since I began gardening 38 years ago. In those days I used those cheap red Silvine Memo books and I still have every one of them. There are entries in my first one such as ‘buy a watering can’, ‘put blue flowers in the front bed’, and even ‘the wretched dog has dug up the ‘weed’ plant Laura gave me’. I wonder what THAT was – did Lolly the Setter save me from some frightful thug that my sister was trying to palm off on her unsuspecting sibling?
My books contain all SORTS of stuff – lists of seeds I got from seed distribution schemes, notes on things said on GQT, what I did in the garden today, plans for a new garden or a new border, ideas from books and magazines, things I’ve seen and liked at a garden centre, or Chelsea… There are plenty of embarrassing entries too – lists of the dozens of plants I have managed to kill over the years, bewildered rhetoric such as, ‘Where did I plant the echinops’? Among them, you can deduce that I have moved the Choisya ‘Sundance’ FOUR times in an increasingly frantic effort to find somewhere it looks good.
I have toyed with those proper garden journals – the ones with page titles like ‘planting diary’, ‘weekly planner’, ‘weather log’, etc.etc. But I just couldn’t get on with them – too constraining, too bossy, ultimately too muddling, ironically. And I have tried ordinary desk-type diaries, but that was a bit rubbish too – each page was either too big, or not big enough. No, it’s got to be a simple book, lined or unlined; small is good, waterproof-ish is good, and your gardening journey will weave its way over the pages as you encounter all of those triumphs and disasters treating those two impostors just the same….with large quantities of alcohol, mostly.
I have never kept a physical garden diary but have used my brain as a repository instead. You could therefore calculate that I have a bigger brain than Elaine. Or conversely that there is simply not as much information in my brain to start with therefore more room.
But I do continually read and re read other people’s published garden diaries, especially those of gardeners whom I admire, whose opinions I respect, and who write with wit and passion. These diaries are often compilations from newspaper columns so tend to follow a chronological order through the gardening season:
Vita Sackville West – In Your Garden – a series based on her regular column in the Observer in the 1950s (biographies on the life and affairs of this passionate bisexual gardening genius also tend to be a good read, though not as well furnished with gardening tips….)
Christopher Lloyd – Cuttings – a compilation of his column in the Guardian, again following the gardening calendar in his own inimitable style.
Pretty much anything by Beth Chatto.
And bringing things up to date I recently picked up a copy of Helen Yemm’s second volume of ‘Thorny Problems’ based on her weekly agony column for the Saturday Telegraph’s gardening supplement, and have found a wealth of tips, humour and robust opinion – perfect reading.
Unlike my clever sisters my gardening education is far less cerebral. I heaved my canon of ‘real life’ diaries 1988-2016 into the recycling skip this summer after scanning them through the imaginary eyes of my surviving relatives (I had been dispatched by a scarf caught round the wheels of a vintage Rolls, you understand). They didn’t paint a pretty picture – the thought of a future Jenny Murray introducing their serialisation on Women’s Hour triggered a panic attack. I suggest if you do follow Elaine’s advice and begin a diary you focus strictly on the antics of the plants (although, en passant, why can’t Elaine remember where she was intending to put her monardas? Is she going la-la?).
I have, in fact, just started a plant diary simply recording those I’ve acquired and where I’ve stuck them, given the real chance I won’t know what the heck they are when they re-appear next spring.
It’s rather dull but I can’t even afford, for instance, to accompany this week’s arrival of climbing rose ‘Buff Beauty’, with little details like, ‘then Lesley popped round with her tombola prize’. Despite my advancing years this could still lead to the sort of behaviour that I had unadvisedly recorded since 1988 – thankfully now pulped into oblivion.
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