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Keeping Track and Making Plans

by Debbie VanBourgondien

Garden journal.
Many garden journals are available, but you can also make your own.

I don't know about you, but for me a lot of the joy of gardening is in the planning. Mentally making new plant combinations, trying out new plants and ideas - deciding what we'll keep and change in our gardens. The best part about this stage, since it's all in our imaginations, is that it's probably the only time we actually manage to have a perfect garden. Gardens we are dreaming up never have weeds and they never have bare spots. And we don't get calluses and sore backs from planting them.

I plant my imaginary gardens using a garden journal. Garden journals can be anything you like, really. Many bookstores sell journals already set up with categories like "plant lists", "Today in the Garden" and more. Some are full of graph paper for people who like to plan their garden down the finest quarter inch. Others are basically diaries. Some are mainly places to list plants and how they like to grow. Many of these are quite beautiful and tempting, but I have never found one that suited the way I like to work. So I make my own.

Garden journals should be notebooks that allow you to keep plans, pictures, ideas and records about what is going on in your garden. I prefer a loose-leaf binder, because it lets me add pages, put in photo pages, or anything else that I feel like saving.

I always begin mine in autumn. That's when I get blank paper and sketch out a rough drawing of the garden and the plants I already have. Usually I am planning on moving or eliminating some of these, so I also do a rough drawing of the planned changes. This makes it really easy in spring to know what to dig up and divide. Also, since many plants go dormant in winter and don't even show their little noses in spring, I know that even though they look like bare spots in the garden, there is something down there waiting to emerge and fill the space. Some people are very precise and use graph paper to do this - but a rough sketch will do if you're not the meticulous type.

I also like to take pictures of the various beds and tuck a photo page into the binder next to the drawings. Pictures can be a revelation, because they show you where things look too crowded or too much of the same. Looking at photos is a big help to me in deciding what I want to move and change.

If I have plant care tags, I stick them into a binder insert with pockets. That way I can keep track of specific variety names and special care needs. If I'm feeling energetic, I also make lists of what plants are there and when they bloom.

Even if you haven't done all of this, you can probably jot some notes now about things you weren't happy with and want to change next year, and about empty spaces that will need filling. Next year you can get more elaborate.

Once you have a basic idea of what is in the garden, and what you want to change, the fun begins. I can spend hours just making notes about different ideas I have for my gardens. Perhaps a magazine picture inspires me, or I am talking with a friend and we start spouting ideas. Or I fall in love with a new plant and just know I have to move things around to fit it in. So in winter, I write down all of these ideas, make notes about plants I'd like to use, cut out and paste in photos, and generally just dream about things I want to do in spring.

Then I get out the catalogs. I don't know about you but when winter is roaring around me and I am dreaming with a catalog in front of me, everything seems irresistible. Before I started a garden journal I used to make endless lists of plants I knew I couldn't live without. I could always see the perfect place for them in my mind's eye. Imagine my dismay in spring when I found that I had one spot and four plants intended for it! But now, my rough drawings from fall, my pictures and another rough drawing where I mentally plug in those "must-haves" has saved me from that dilemma. Now, if I really think I must have something I either know I have a spot for it, or know that something that I already have planted has got to go.

When I do decide to get some plants, I make a list of them and spend some time researching them, finding out how large they will grow and where they will grow best. I also like to note where I bought them, in case I have problems.

Lots of people like to cut the plants' picture and description out of the catalog and paste it into their journals - this is an easy way to have a record of what you have in the garden, complete with care instructions. I like this, and I also like to take photos of my individual plants to go along with it. You can have a fine time planning to re-do a garden by shuffling plant pictures around.

All of this is a wonderful way for the avid gardener to wile away the winter. When spring comes, you are more than ready to dash out into the warming air and start making dreams reality.

Then you will want to keep other notes - about what you actually plant, what doesn't seem to have survived what you move and divide. Also, keep notes about the weather - it's amazing to go back from year to year and see how the weather varies! I also make notes about what is in bloom from week to week. This is invaluable information when planning, because it lets you pretty much know what flowers bloom together. This can help you to avoid color clashes, and also anticipate when you have a peak bloom season and when you may need different plants to sparkle up the plantings.

Actually, you can put as little or as much into your garden journal as you like. No need to feel guilty if you don't keep it up like a real diary. But you'll find that reading back on past years is great fun, and planning for next year with some sort of system is the ultimate way to enjoy gardening even in a blizzard!


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