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Why you should keep a garden diary

the3growbags
The3Growbags

How good is your garden admin? Do you make a note of all the new plants you’ve bought and where you’ve planted them (Elaine) Do you keep the labels? Do you file the delivery slips of your on-line purchases? Do you actually know even the approximate common name of the chunk of plant you have just dug up to give to a friend who has admired it in your garden (Caroline)?

Well it’s still early enough in the New Year to make a resolution to have a more organised approach to your garden admin this year, and we three Growbags are here to make a few suggestions on how to go about this.

As usual, if you don’t have time to read this, you may fancy listening to the short podcast of this chat, with all the usual laughter and teasing you might expect from us! The link is at the end.


It’s me first, and I have to admit that up until recently I have mostly relied on my memory to recall the scientific binomial name of each and every plant in my garden including its specific cultivar epithet – it’s been the equivalent of a daily sudoku challenge to keep the grey cells limbered up.

And scientific names are fascinating things from which you can learn so much about the plant’s habit (eg repens means creeping), colour (flava means yellow), origin (japonica means from Japan). Or even who first discovered it in the wild (Paeonia cambessedesii, whose name becomes much more engaging when you learn that it was discovered by French botanist Jacques Cambessèdes whilst clambering up the chalk cliffs of the Balearic Islands). But I have to admit that this intellectual exercise is getting harder as the years advance, and my collection of weird and whacky plants grows.

Plant label
It’s easy for the staff at RHS Wisley, every plant is clearly labelled – I have to rely on my memory

When my memory fails me my fall-back has always been the horde of plant labels and seed packets I have stashed away over the years, and when flummoxed I will sit and sift through these in the hope of some little clue.

Plant labels
There must be a clue in this lot …

But actually I have come to the conclusion that, going forward, I must become more like Elaine and I’m starting my garden notebook today – I’ve made a little video of me reaching this decision and the link is at the end of the blog.

Diary
I’m turning over a new leaf!

Elaine

It is a complete mystery to me how anyone can maintain a garden without keeping at least few notes about it! I have kept a garden notebook ever since I first started gardening back in 1983 – our youngest child was one, and the need to do something other than change nappies, discuss teething rings, and cook fish fingers drove me to plant my first marigolds and wallflowers. I’ve filled at least a dozen notebooks of all shapes and sizes since then, and they are SO precious to me.

Can I urge you to keep a diary of your garden exploits!

I apologise profusely for using the ‘J’ word, but a garden diary tells such a tale of your gardening journey.  I am looking at my first one now, and it contains entries like ‘Buy a watering can’ and ‘What are balloon flowers?’ (i.e. the sorts of the things Caroline wrote in hers last week) as well as little lists of plants I’d seen in catalogues, ideas for what would grow in a shady spot, a tip about michaelmas daisies which grow too tall (“shorten the stems to 1’ (30 cm) in mid-June”) etc. etc.  Here’s a good one: “The dog has dug up some of my new plants – 1 gentian, 1 tradescantia, the ‘weed’ plant Laura gave me……….” I wonder if I ever confessed that to her.

Over the years, the books have included diagrams of where I’ve planted things, diaries of gardening projects or just general maintenance, lists of seed ordered and delivered, tips and ideas from books or Gardeners’ Question Time – a mass of different things, which are a real joy to look through again….oooh, just come across a recipe for an organic slug and snail repellent (“Boil two whole bulbs of garlic in 2 litres of water, mash it all up, and use 1 tablespoonful in 5 litres of water”) – I’ll have a go at that this spring. 

Most horticultural books began life as garden notebooks and diaries, I bet – so get writing!

When you think about it, the majority of horticultural books out there are just glorified diaries of the writer’s gardening adventures.  Notes and diaries must have given them their raw material.  I urge you to start a garden notebook today, if you don’t already use one – who knows what spectacular bestseller they may inspire in the future!


Caroline

I don’t think mine would sell many copies. I only started keeping a garden diary because Elaine told me I must. Ever since she forced Laura and me (+ teddies) to attend daily classes in her bedroom aged four and six – I feel compelled to obey.

But my scribbled records provide a more sombre roll call than Elaine’s lively narrative.  Typically my entries read: “Went to MacPlants – got Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llanduff’ followed by a forlorn codicil in different coloured ink  – ‘eaten by slugs’.

D. ‘Bishop of Llanduff – mine did not grow to look like this…..

And any hopes Elaine might have that my garden diary might chart my own horticultural ‘J’ would be dashed if she caught sight of it. It consists mainly of the dates each and every spring that I sow sweet peas, cosmos, sunflowers and yes of course nasturtiums. My ‘J’ is more like a continuous ‘O’.

My sunflowers, cosmos and sweet peas – you’d think I’d get tired of them wouldn’t you? Never!

What ‘Little Miss Binomial’ doesn’t tell you is that she and Elaine often send me photos demanding I tell them what the plant is, using my plant ‘app’. Barely able to master ‘WhatsApp’ it doesn’t occur to them there could be digital alternatives to paper and pen, but that said, I do love my garden notebooks and I will respond to the ‘hard sell’ in Laura’s video below.

Without one I would miss vital information such as the aide memoire I discovered in my notes when I was planning a garden pond some years ago – ‘A panda needs to sit in water to ovulate’. Who’s the most ambitious Growbag now?

Do you keep a garden diary and if so, is it like Elaine’s comprehensive notes or more like Caroline’s record of all her garden failures ? we’d love to know!

And here is the little podcast we made on this topic.

Here is the video of the awful truth dawning on Laura that she can no longer remember what she planted or when!

NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

14 replies on “Why you should keep a garden diary”

Hi there, Elaine here. I didn’t actually make a note of where you spray it, did I! But when you buy commercial versions of the same idea, you definitely spray it on the plants, so I think that’s what we should do. Good luck!

Hello ladies, what a fine idea for the new year. I’ve never kept a gardening diary, nor have the draw with stacks of plant labels, string, pens etc etc; the original plant having disappeared who knows how long ago. I’ll be off this morning seeking a substantial A4 something into which I can make my notes, attach the labels with notes about location, when planted and perhaps even where bought from. So, after a cup of coffee (essential), it’s down the road I go. Have a great week and thanks as usual.

Hello Scott, glad to hear we’ve inspired you to start the diary habit, it sounds like you’re embracing the process wholeheartedly! Hope storm Eunice hasn’t wreaked too much damage in your neck of the woods – we’ve got a bit of clearing up to do today down here in West Sussex but luckily nothing major . best wishes Laura

Thanks Laura, that’s what you sisters are about … inspiration : ) the country has hit everyone but thankfully, very little local damage locally in west Devon. Warm regards

Hi there, I have a large box full of labels for each section of the garden which helps, and one is marked ‘dead, eaten, never came back’. I keep scrapbooks with photos of all the changes made through the years, and the plants and wildlife that we see in the garden. It is great to see how it has come on over the years. I also have a wee blog so my mum could see what I was up to. I did try a diary but kept forgetting to write in it. I also tried using calendars to add notes of when to do pruning or sowing of certain plants but that failed too.

I’ve kept a detailed record of three large gardens now, since the mid 1970s. Even planting plans, insisted on by my gardening guru and with all the Latin names of plants! I now have fascinating details about the gardens going back 50 years, yikes. In our present plot, starting from scratch, I have a folder for each year and all the labels go in the appropriate file. I also keep an intermittent journal, commenting on weather conditions, plants – late/ early, and general ramblings which are really interesting to look back on. AND I keep full listings of when and where I’ve bought everything. Oh gosh, I sound a total control freak, my guru would be proud of me!

Jennie this is indeed, five-star garden admin. It just goes to prove that even the most creative activities do require a bit of discipline and ‘process’ behind them. It’s Caroline here and as an enthusiastic spectator, I can say it’s very helpful when a garden’s owner knows everything about the plants in their garden. You’re doing your gardening guru proud but no doubt all your garden visitors too! Kindest regards, Caroline XX

Jackie, Caroline here. Thank you so much for leaving a comment. I absolutely LOVED your blogsite – those images are wonderful a very welcome reminder of Arthur Rackham’s era of artistic magic. What a lovely idea to keep a scrapbook – I wonder if this is digital? Although iPhone cameras are great I do miss having the print in my hand and being able to collate physical photo albums (I know I still could if I was organised!). My ‘Dead, eaten, never came back’ box would definitely be the biggest. That said, as your Solomon’s Seal has proved, some plants can be fantastically resilient (but it’s normally the ones you have rather gone off!) Very best wishes to you, Caroline XX

Hi Caroline, I take digital photos but I like to print them to scrapbook with in 12″ x 12″ scrapbook as I enjoy crafting. Thank you for your kind comments about my blog. Jackie

Hello Ladies. The days are lengthening, snowdrops in full flower and scent, more green tufts appearing, promising further delights! What’s not to like? Hope you are all well. I have kept a garden diary for more than 45 years but confess to some lapses. I keep a Spreadsheet of plants in my current garden, updated intermittently, otherwise I would not have a clue about when and where I obtained them, or where I have planted them. I abandoned plant labels in the garden as the numerous magpies steal them or hook them out of the soil. I discover that I have 15 diaries after almost 16 years in this garden. I don’t exactly file plant labels but I do re-use them if I am giving plants away. I keep a to-do list in the back of the diary. unfortunately, as I tick off the tasks, it seems to get longer too.

Sally how really lovely to get a comment from you. I’m quite excited to hear you keep a SPREADSHEET! What a brilliant idea. It’s Caroline here and although I’m absolutely hopeless at Excel (I can feel my heart rate increasing rapidly when I open a new ‘worksheet’) I’m also rather fascinated by its capability. I think you’re another five-star garden admin guru. Fifteen diaries charting your garden would, without doubt, be a bestseller! XX
PS I know what you mean about plant labels. I carefully labelled every cutting Elaine gave me when I heeled them in at my garden in the Highlands – only for my daughter’s cocker spaniel to systematically run off with the lot 🙁

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