March 4, 2010

Gardening by the Book

This is the time of year when there is so much to do outside and my mind is racing with all the things I want to get at.  But the ground is still too wet, and still frozen below a couple inches.

So I have to content myself with book gardening.  Like all frustrated gardeners, winter is when I do research, pore over pictures, draw up plans and write notes to myself.  In winter all my gardens are perfect... they're imaginary, they're photo-shopped, and they exist in all their unlimited potential.

To keep all my notes and reminders and journal experiences in one place, I sprung for a fancy gardening notebook called Garden Scribe:

But when it came, I immediately tossed out all the prepackaged templates ---thereby making this the most expense vinyl binder ever sold (the way-hefty price is for the templates and inserts) --- and made my own.  I had already created a massive database in AppleWorks, with info I compiled on each tree, shrub, vine and perennial I had ever planted, including an alarmingly large section on failures.  My database works for me better than a written journal because I can sort it endlessly and combine data into sets, and it just tweaks my nerdy obsessive need to manipulate stuff.

I added magazine articles and how-to advice:

I made pages for each plant I wanted in addition to all the plants I already have:
And I made more than a few trips to Staples to get printer ink and paper for what turned out to be an immense 200+ page printing effort to put all the pages into the binder.

But it's worth it (not financially of course, but you knew that).  During the winter I research, create the data, add notes I jotted down from the prior summer, assemble the giant binder of pages, and get closely involved with each plant as I spend time on its details.  No sweeping garden views, no panoramas of design and composition, just each plant, each individual, dataset by dataset, page by page.  This is when I get to really know my plants as individuals with specific needs.  It's strangely intimate.

Then in the summer, I take the big book out into the garden, write down observations on each plant's page, get it dirty, crumple the pages with wet gloves, add notes, and turn my beautiful, fancy, overexpensive notebook into a garden tool.  One of the best tools on my potting bench.  By summer's end it's good and dirty, grit covered, and with crinkly pages, ready to have the season's notes input to my monster database over the winter.

Of course it helps to have an observation station, so I put a bench under the birch tree in front of one of my gardens, the better to sit and make notes.  I placed some chairs behind the garden to check out the plants in back.  And I have other spots throughout the yard to sit and observe, write things down and document what each plant needs.
The little tuft in the bowl is a rosemary Madeline Hill that will fill out the whole container.
Ignore it for now.  It will grow and stop looking so silly.
I reach over and touch it as I sit on the bench .... oh, the fragrance.
My Garden Scribe book is gardening at the individual plant level.  There are other times that I am working in the entire yard, and I see its whole picture, enjoying the way everything comes together.  And there are many times I'm outside and not even thinking anything about the garden at all, just having a glass of wine under the trees, or walking around in the sunshine.

But to get to know every individual in my little world and keep tabs on each one all year long, I garden by the book.


  1. I love it! So glad other people pull stunts like buying the expensive journal and then throwing out the pre-printed templates. I would so do that. Every year, I'm so mad that I forgot to write down exactly when things bloomed last year - I will do it this spring! I will! But maybe I'll just go buy a vinyl binder from the office supply store. :)

  2. Kelly: absolutely get a book to write down what you want to remember about your plants next year! But a cheap vinyl binder is all you need. Really.

  3. I'm so glad you wrote about this. I considered trying that notebook "system" a while back, but opted to make my own. My recordkeeping is not as indepth as yours but it works for me. I tried the plant database one year and it failed me miserably. When it comes to recording garden info, I'm more of a pencil and paper gal.

  4. Wow, I am envious at how organized you are. Especially love the fave, fair or flunk!
    Oh, and congratulations, your blog is (finally) up at Blotanical.

  5. Joene: I think the homemade systems are best, rather than trying to fit into pre-designed templates. And anything that works for the gardener is great... pen and paper or whatever!

    Deborah: yay, I can finally head over to Blotanical and start using all the features!

  6. I had to laugh when I read about the alarming number of failures. It happens to everybody.

    I have some notebooks too, but I'm not as organized about keeping notes as you are. It's interesting to hear about how other gardeners document their experiences in the garden.

  7. For some reason I found your binder habit charming. It reminds me of my parents keeping folders for each of us children with our accomplishments, poems, stories etc in them. Yes, you love your garden "babies". :-)

  8. I love how your put your book together and add your notes. A great book like this one is never finished just as a garden is never finished. I saw your blog on Blotanical - Welcome!

  9. Hello, I'm another who just discovered your wonderful blog via Blotanical. After reading this post I'm starting to suspect that if we had a more serious winter here in my part of Australia it might force me indoors to do some proper planning!

  10. I really like the idea of keeping a planting log. I've done it in my own fashion, simply recording what was planted, when and where, but I must say I haven't really kept it up. As you mentioned, I'm afraid that if i did, i'd be alarmed by the high rate of failures.

    thanks for stopping by Owl Hollow.

    I like to collect bookmarks for CT gardeners, specifically, so I've added your site to my list.

    Happy gardening!

  11. Thanks, Noelle and Gippslandgardener, for coming here to visit. You both have such warm climates you never need to garden indoors with books and pictures in winter!

    Sweet bay, Garden Ms. S, and Fern, all I can say is thanks for not laughing at my obsession. And it's nice to know everyone has a long list of failures.


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