Diary of a Garden

Keeping a journal of what you planted where in your garden can be fun, useful and emotionally rewarding.

Focus On Gardening

January 27, 2002|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN COLUMNIST

Gardens are deceptively dormant in the winter. They are gray-brown and icy-crisp above, but they stir with small signs of life below.

So it is with gardeners.

Their tools may be oiled and shelved, their sun hats hung and their gloves lifeless, but in winter, gardeners are thinking about their gardens.

Winter is the ideal time for such planning. The chores of spring, summer and fall do not allow for rumination. So gardeners have learned -- the hard way -- to write down their winter inspirations in a gardener's journal.

"Winter is sort of a dream time," says Sharon Dick of Lutherville. "It is how I keep my garden alive in my mind."

Hers is a very small garden, so the drawings and notes that she keeps in her journal must be precise.

"Every inch of space has a record. I have to know where I am not to dig."

Right now, Dick has her garden charts in front of her, with her catalogs fanned out on one side, and snapshots of her garden in various states of bloom on the other.

She doesn't plan for the sake of the garden as much as she plans for the sake of the creatures that are attracted to it.

"I am concentrating on spicy, floral plants that are blue because bees are attracted to them," she says.

Susan Yonkers forced herself to wait until after the Christmas decorations were packed away before she opened her garden journal and began planning for spring.

"All winter long, I read books and plan and make lists. And as I look at gardens, I write down plants that I love and want to incorporate," said the Lutherville gardener, owner of more than two acres.

"I am just starting to do diagrams and drawings now. I will make lists of things I want to find. Then I will try to find them."

Bookstore shelves are crowded with commercially produced garden journals to keep pace with this ancient occupation, in full flower once again.

These journals are often quite lovely, with colorful pictures and delicate drawings, bits of poetry or wisdom. They can be practical, too. Some have calendar pages; grids for drawing in beds; formatted pages for listing botanical names, bloom times and other data. Some have how-to articles, planting zone maps, plastic sleeves for photos or plant tags, lists of garden literature or seed sources, Web sites and local information. The best ones have room for several years of notes.

These might be too frilly or confining for the down and dirty gardener. In that case, a three-ring binder works just fine.

Rondalyn Reeser likes to keep everything in her head. The Ellicott City master gardener walks her gardens daily and records their needs. But she admits to using a notebook to keep track of the plantings on the half-acre where she has lived for 19 years.

"I set up each page as a different planter or part of the garden. It takes 15 pages," says Reeser. "I change things so often, and I need to know where things went."

Garden journals not only help gardeners remember where they put things, they also help gardeners recall what didn't work.

Win Morin's garden journal could be considered a record of failures.

"When I receive my seed orders each spring, I clip the lists from the invoices and paste them on another page. This helps me remember from whom I got what," she says. "Then I make notes in the margin about results, so I don't make the same mistakes next year."

The next page is a sketch of the vegetable garden. That helps with crop rotation for the next season.

Like many gardeners, Morin, who spends three full days a week working in her 1 1/2 -acre Sykesville yard, has learned the importance of pictures in garden record-keeping. It helps in designing color schemes and for remembering in the fall where the spring bulbs are.

"I have photos of bare ground, too," she says. "It means, 'This is where they are. Don't dig here, dummy."

Journaling may sound like a waste of daylight to a gardener, until volume and complexity overrun short-term memory.

That is what finally motivated Diana Jones of Baltimore to undertake the tedious task of graphing her yard to scale: "I skewered too many bulbs," she said.

"I started pacing off and recording the hardscape," she said. "The house, the fence, the gazebo."

Over that drawing, she layered several pages of tracing paper. On one page, she would record bulbs. On another, perennials. All in color.

"It was very labor-intensive," said Jones, who has the advantage of a background in art and design. "But in the end, I was able to chronicle the colors and the seasons of the garden. ... At the end of the summer, I had my grocery list."

It is possible the journal is a tool favored primarily by backyard gardeners.

"I actually don't know anybody who keeps a garden journal," said Dennis Bishop, an urban horticulturalist with the University of Maryland Extension service. "It sounds like a hobby, and for us this is a job."

But Thomas Jefferson, as venerated in some circles for his horticultural knowledge as he is in others for his statesmanship, kept a garden journal for more than 50 years at Monticello.

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