Gardeners, always told to keep garden diaries or journals, choose multiple methods for that record keeping.
In the 1750s an English country clergyman name Gilbert White kept his “Garden Kalendar” which led to the first and most famous natural history “The Natural History of Selbourne.” White made absolutely regular entries in his journals and was never at a loss for what to write. He advises: “many other particulars will daily offer themselves to the observer when his attention to such points hath become habitual.”
My disorderly system of odd notebooks and my regular journal captures some of those particulars. I also keep close by my “coverless journal” – unbound but lined seconds from my bookbinder friends – full of fragments of sentences by date and longer riffs written while sitting outside: “mason bees breaking out,” “juncos harassing squirrel” “old and ratty coyote crossing the bluff in the rain.”
When we first arrived, my old friend gave me a lovely tin box, painted with nesting birds. She called it a hope chest and said I’d figure out what to do with it. In it I began to file, in envelopes by year, saved bulb packages, plant labels, and seed packets. To go through them is to walk through the developing garden – its successes and failures.
Reading the labels I’m reminded of plant needs – the Italian plum I planted two years ago needs fertilizer in early spring before new growth. I find still viable seeds, and I see also a lot of plastic labels that could be what some garden writer likened to little tombstones attending the graves of dead plants.
When I visited another gardener, she brought out (to answer a question) a good-sized plastic tub full of seed packets all separated by nicely cut chunks of cardboard. With a little flipping through she could easily share the seed name and source.
My clever friend, both creative and orderly, uses a printed garden journal, but transforms it into a three-year journal with a system of columns to compare one year with another. Side-by-side she can record rainfall, first frost, and bloom times.
There is no doubting the utilitarian reasons for garden journals. Henry Mitchell, writing in “The Essential Earthman” says: “It is the spectrum, not the color, that makes color worth having and it is the cycle, not the instant that makes the day worth living.” Garden journals record the instant and reveal the cycle.