Wednesday, March 18, 2009


AKA, The Benefits of keeping a Garden Journal
KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are proud to tell you that KCB rules as the 2008 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. And we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

I can still recall gently tracing the Celtic designs intricately carved into cover and spine of my first journal. The heady aroma of leather filled the air as I placed the buttery soft volume against my cheek. My actual age escapes me, somewhere in the single digits. Nevertheless I imagined myself years older as a famous author. Not sure what that would exactly entail other than an appearance on ‘lady’ talk shows that my mother and her friends watched. Coifed in a French Twist, donning a shirtwaist dress, accessorized with pearls I would answer as the person next to me asked. I was a writer long before a gardener. Each takes a certain amount of imagination.

Sadly, I admit, the gold edged paper of that first journal never met a pen. It was ‘too good’ to be filled with my cross outs, false starts and senseless ramblings. To this day, I collect journals of all sizes, shapes and styles. Some are elegant and that ‘too good’ tape is replayed, others are school composition books purchased at bargain basement rates. I have journals in all my various bags, backpacks, purses and tool cases. Once I could boast that I had a journal in every room. My current cozy pad sports 2 rooms. I must compensate for the lack of space somehow. Books abound! Voluptuous volumes longing for words rest next to each chair, under, even over, the bed on the shelf that also holds my gnome & elf collection. Gnomes? Elves? Never mind.

With every purchase of a new journal I visualize myself writing upon the pages diligently each day. Visions of me donning Edwardian clothing, sipping pink lemonade and scribing of long lost loves in elegant cursive have been replaced.

Now the pages are streaked with dirt and other organic matter. Notes of ‘first crocus: March 12, 2006; Mr. Mocking Bird woke me at 3:30 AGAIN June 6, 2007. Applied Messenger to McD Roses 5/13/08.

I, like so many others of my ilk, am keeping a garden journal.

Do you or should you keep a garden journal? The reasons are as many as empty journals in my apartment. Keeping a garden journal only benefits if it is referred to at a future date. If it sits upon a shelf then all is lost, that is until someone else finds it.

Revisiting our journals, especially years later, offers a portal to another time, other seasons. How can you look back if you never began? No time like the present.

For this writing I will overlook the romantic notion behind keeping a journal and focus on the practical. Keeping a journal can save you money. It may make you a ‘smarter’ or more aware gardener. Did I have you at ‘save you money’?
I often equate keeping a gardening journal with a shopping list. Better still, not keeping records is like grocery shopping when hungry. Poor choices and overspending result.

Gardeners are blessed with unique memories; we remember killing frosts in June, droughts in July and abundance in August. Alternatively, all memories are temporarily erased in May. We cannot wait to get out and fill in all those empty spaces. We have forgotten we took advantage of an end-of-season sale at our favorite nursery. We forget that while our beds are showy in May & June and vibrant late August thru September it the times between we must fulfill. The mental note that the Baptisia was invading the Shastas, the clethra is not dead, it will leaf in June. Will this be the second or third summer for my bugbane? Did I really wait until the first of June to plant impatiens?

Armed with this information as you plan for new purchases will result in appropriate choices, happier gardener.

So now you know the ‘why’ about keeping a journal. Lets get to the ‘how’.

Recently I had the privilege of facilitating a class titled “The Garden Journal” at each of Skillin’s 3 locations. Most in attendance had kept or tried to keep a garden journal of sorts. Those who diligently kept gardening observations shared their successes; others were looking for alternate methods and variable ways to capture their garden notes. Then there were the novices, not necessarily new to gardening or journal keeping but to the combining. All on board agreed that ‘garden journal’ meant pages of writing.

Not necessarily.

A definition for Journal is ‘a record of daily happenings’. We are in a digital age, baby. One picture says a thousand words. Pictures do not need to be printed on expensive and glossy paper. Standard paper, post cards or even index cards can be used. Notations can be made along, on or the backside of the printed picture. Inexpensive albums with pockets meant for 4X6 photos can hold a picture in one pocket with notes on the 3 & 5 in an adjoining pocket.

I also keep the plastic plant tags as part of my journal. Very beneficial for planning the tag is full of pertinent information such as height, width and bloom time. Often we purchase plants in bloom. Being much happier in the ground and wanting to go to a home of their own, often the blooms are either before or beyond their natural time. Wouldn’t you put on your best face?

Feel free to include a wish list in your journal. Pictures of other gardens you want to replicate. Include the journal in your garden tool bag. Mental notes abound while actually working in our beds. ‘Divide Yarrow’ that you thought last summer will not even occur to you in the spring when the time is appropriate. ‘Too much yellow’, will lay dormant when you are about to purchase several Waldsteinia (Barren Strawberry) as a groundcover.

See all the more reason for the ‘why’.

Now for some more. The best things in life are often free. Remember and sharing special times in our lives costs us nothing.

As part of the presentation, I borrowed journals from fellow Master Gardeners. I was in awe. Entries made were much more then just gardening, they were about life. One such journal was started ‘around Memorial Day 2002’ with a dedication to her baby daughter with a note ‘should she ever be so inclined’ to follow in her mother’s steps. Years later her daughter as a preschooler made her first entry upon a page of that very book.

Let us all stimulate our gardens this summer. It is never too early or too late to take note.

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
March 18, 2009

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