Do You Plant and Tell?


TimberIn my garden is a little plaque that reads, "I Don’t Remember Planting This."  That is as accurate and straightforward an accounting of my gardening activities as you will ever find.

I don’t save plant tags. I don’t make notes.  I don’t take pictures and paste them into a little book.  I do not note the temperature, the rainfall, or the patterns of sunlight across the ground.  I do not make observations about pest infestations or crop yields or frost dates or bird populations.

It’s a little Green Eggs and Ham, isn’t it?

I would not, could not, with a pen!
I would not do it in a tree.
I would not do it if the book was free.
Garden journal, let me be!

But someone out there is making a list and keeping it twice.  And for you we have a special treat.  Say something interesting about your garden record-keeping activities, and we’ll send you some swag from Timber Press. They sent us a lovely blank gardening journal, a handsome tote bag, a coleus mousepad, and a hip little catalog of their upcoming publications.  It’s all yours.  Just brighten our day with your clever little comments.



  1. I cannot imagine NOT keeping track. For me, a big (very big) part of the fun is comparing and contrasting the different cultivars as they grow. Ah… this one does THAT. Interesting. Also, our winters are severe. I like to have some kind of precise idea as to where to look to see what survived. Also, I like to see what traveled… what moved a bit. What is shrinking? What is growing? Markers wouldn’t stand of chance of remaining year after year (I pick those up in November)… the snow and ice and wind would carry them away or destroy them.

    I don’t keep a written journal exactly… but I usually draw a fairly detailed map with callouts (not to scale).

    Here’s last years’ garden (part of it):

    Since I’m still digging this year’s (new place), I have no drawings yet. But (so far) I have eight varieties of Japanese Barberry bushes… each just a little different (some REALLY different). I need to have some idea which is which.

    Crimson Pygmy
    Legacy (came with house)
    Helmond Pillar
    Rose Glow
    (Berberis thunbergii)

    And these are just the bushes. You should see my digitalis!

    I can’t imagine that you don’t keep track. Really.

    Hell, we ALL plant stuff we don’t remember. But these are exceptions not the general rule.

    It seems like one isn’t allowed to complain about plant labels if one doesn’t capture that information. And it seems like not capturing that data does NO GOOD.

    Later, when a neighbor wants a spadeful, you’ll be giving them “some kind of” whatever. Would it be so hard to make a little note?

    Maybe you ladies (whoever wrote this) ought to keep the prize yourself.

  2. Three years ago, I started a tiny little herb garden and a tiny little blog to keep track of it all. I posted pictures with my digital camera as I went along.

    Now I have two gardens, an ever expanding blog, and a huge camera. It all just seemed to feed off each other–the gardening and the blogging and the photography–looking back I’m not really sure how it all happened even….

  3. I write everything down in a word document, using two columns and several rows. Each row is a part of the garden such as the front border. On the left column are plants’ names, including common as well as scientific, and when planted. Now I also include the plant company so I know where it came from. In the column on the right I write down notes such as when blooming or if there is a pest problem. At the end of the year I archive this file, save and create a new one for the next year. So if a plant has died, I may delete that entry for the next year. If I don’t write everything down I would forget it because I am an experimenter/collector type of gardener. I love watching them and taking notes and soon I will compile a list of what works best for me.

  4. Well, who can compare with the above entries! Write it down? No time as I am in the garden. I usually bury the tag next to the plant in case I forget. You would be surprised how many tags I have dug up in memory of the ‘perennial’ that is no longer there! Tags seem to last forever. Plants just don’t. A blog is a nice way to keep a record of what is going on in the garden.

  5. Well, I try, I really do, to keep records, only because I write about gardening and get hounded by nice people emailing me to say, ‘where did you get X plant?’ But the best of intentions…when I put the tags in the ground, the frost and Fundy winds heave them up and send them sailing elsewhere, so I find about 47 tags tangled in the goutweed in the ditch every spring.
    My other favourite trick is to inadvertantly bury the label under the plant…which I, like Layanee, find a year or two later, when the plant has shuffled off its mortal coil and become humus.

    Now I have three answers for people who want to know what this plant is or where I got it:
    NOLA: No label
    LOLA: Lost Label
    IDIIK: I’m damned if I know!

    (I won’t claim credit for these, but give thanks to a very wise plantsman, who in his nineties is still breeding new plants and loving everything about plants)

  6. When I first started gardening in my 20’s, I kept a garden journal with the hopes of it looking charming and whimsical. Ha! It looked messy and haphazard, but man was it packed with useful information! I was hooked. I am now in my 40’s and have kept a journal ever since. Nothing special – just basic notes to myself about what I grow and where I planted things. Many times I lose track of what performed in previous years or I may not remember where I planted bulbs, etc.and the journal can help with this. But mostly, I use it to keep track of plant sources when I special order things. If something special succumbs, I can easily remember where the heck I got it.

    Recently, I moved into the modern age by switching to my computer as my garden journal. After scouring the web for an electronic garden journal, I found a great program that would make due. It is actually a daily diary program (complete with password – like we need THAT) and I have adapted it as my new garden journal. I can add photos and website information as well. It is terrific. The journal is called “LifeJournal” by a company called Clear Idea Software. It allows you to categorize each entry: herbs, flowers, bulbs, pest infestations, design ideas…etc. Anything you want. Later, if you want to find the recipe you mixed up for aphids three years ago, you can do a search on a word or your category to find it. Wow! I am in heaven!

  7. My garden journal is full of information that is of no use, but I feel compelled to keep writing down daily high/low temps, if it rained, frost dates, and first flowers blooming in the spring along with the most important thing to track – WHEN I HARVEST THE FIRST RIPE TOMATO, so that appropriate rituals can be followed.

    But as things speed up in the garden, my garden journal degenerates to a record of when I mowed the lawn.

    In a conversation with co-workers one day, someone was talking about when they would be able to stop mowing the lawn in the fall. They all turned to me and asked, “When is the latest you’ve had to mow?” I replied, “I don’t remember, let me check my records.” The silence, then laughter around the room, told me that it is not quite normal to keep track of what days one mows the lawn.

    To keep track of my plants in the garden, I tack the labels up to a bulletin board in the garage. Then when I want to know what something is, and can’t remember, I go into my garage and stare at the board until I find the plant label for that plant. Really, I think a nice new garden journal might be just the thing to transfer the information on these labels to!

  8. Oh…

    after reading the comments here I realized that I should say… uh… please take me out of consideration for the swag. I have my sloggers and I’m happy. I don’t really need “a lovely blank gardening journal, a handsome tote bag, [or] a coleus mousepad.”

    not that my comments are worthy… (Burying labels UNDER PLANTS??? – Tracking mow dates??? – Holy Cow!) I’m just trying to be clear. thank you.

  9. Every year I promise myself that I will keep a journal… and every year I fail. The best I can seem to manage is a few pictures on my garden’s peak days.

  10. I have a few markers out there from years past. The intention was to have plants tagged for visitors of Garden Walk Buffalo. People seem to appreciate having the names. The most fun, though, is the garden my daughter and I planted.

    We buy the oddest-looking plants we can find when we’re doing the nursery rounds in the spring. We plant these in her garden and give them all names of plants that can be found in the Harry Potter books.

    A corkscrew rush becomes Gillyweed with the description, “Looking like slimy, greyish-green rat tails, it tastes slimy and rubbery, like octopus tentacles. When eaten, causes the user to grow gills, webbed feet and webbing between fingers. The effect lasts for about an hour.”

    A funny-looking sedum become Bubotuber described as “Thick, slug-like plants. It is normal for them to squirm, covered in pus-filled swellings. The pus itself creates severe irritation on the skin – dragon-hide gloves are suggested. In a dilute form it may be used as a cure for acne.”

    A redbud becomes the wand-making hornbeam, an over-wintering cactus becomes stinksap-spewing mimbulus mimbletonia. Morning glories become devil’s snare – which seems a more appropriate name for them anyway. Add in some fluxweed, scurvy grass, venomous tentacula, gurdyroot and a puffapod and we have well-labeled and documented plantings.

    The best part is to see people (muggles) reading the tags and taking notes and photos during Garden Walk.

  11. I’m out of the running for the swag, natch, but I have to weigh in on this. To be honest, I count on my brain to remember what everything is, and except for all the types of oriental lily hybrids with silly names, that works.

    Otherwise, I keep a file of everything I’ve ordered from Bluestone, Select Seed, Brent and Becky’s, etc. in my email files. That can help. Old blog posts are very helpful too. I try to keep digital records as much as possible at work and home.

    And other than that, I’m just not that concerned about it.

  12. I have been keeping a garden journal for over 10 years. It’s quite useful for tracking global warming. I like to throw in comments from WGNTV’s weather guru Tom Skilling (e.g., this is the 3d warmest September since records have been kept). On the home front, it’s useful for recording home repairs such as when we put on a new roof or installed the new walkway. It has been absolutely indespensible for when I want to know when a particular tree has been planted, as I have developed a temporal relativity problem & can no longer distinguish between events of 2 years ago & 6 years ago. (It’s all a blur.) The journal also reminds me of our various encounters of the wild kind, such as when the racoon thought about having babies in the attic, or when the skunk thought it was a good idea to live right under the patio step, just outside the door. The journal is also an excellent place to vent against the power company’s tree manglers. In short, the journal is my life, when I was gone on vacation (& what died while I was gone), when I had my children & how my handwriting looks after 6 months without sleep. I don’t want to win anything, I’m only on year 2 of my 2d 10-yr journal & I use a laptop computer.

  13. One of the primary reasons I started a garden blog was so that it could function as an electronic garden journal. And it has worked pretty well in that way, especially when I remember to label my posts. If I’m considering planting a particular type of sweet peas, for instance, I can click on the label for sweet peas and see what useful or inane comments I’ve scribbled in the past about them. It’s particularly helpful for tracking planting and harvest times from year to year (when I remember to document such things, that is). Posting photos is a great plus and something I probably wouldn’t bother with if I were keeping a hard copy garden journal. But the fact that I get to share my electronic journal with anyone in the world instantly is a bonus that would be hard to top by even the prettiest printed book journal.

  14. What a great set of comments – I laughed and laughed, especially at the Harry Potter garden. Yes, I started a garden journal. Perhaps it was a lost cause from the first year – just too much happening, too much to look at, to smell, to agonise over, to just sit and enjoy. I have a box into which I now toss plant labels instead of putting them into the envelope for that bed; some cold and stormy winter night I may sort them out. I have a journal, which I notice contains lots of writing for the early spring and late fall and almost nothing during the summer! In fact, my garden is a constant source of delightful surprises, not least because a number of the plants arrived labelled as one thing and turned out to be quite something else, and like the rest of the gardening world I forget which bulbs I planted where.

  15. When I planted out my first city garden, over 25 years ago, I labeled everything with inexpensive white plastic labels. Visitors said it looked like a plant cemetery. And it did. But it helped me keep track of what areas were planted, especially those first years.

    Over the years, I upgraded to metal labels, which are less obtrusive and last for years. I also began keeping a garden journal. I used used looseleaf pages, and kept them ordered by date of the year. For any day of the year, I could quickly look up tasks, bloom times, pests and problems, and so on. I augmented this with hand-drawn maps and photographs.

    I wish I was still that organized. My record-keeping is much more haphazard these days, though I’ve started a new looseleaf notebook for my current garden, the fourth I’ve started in NYC. And of course my blog, which self-organizes by date. I’ve also been adding tags for the months of the year to my posts so I can see what typically happens in, say, June.

    One trick I’ve added is to use both sides of the metal labels. On the front goes the botanical and common names, if they fit. On the back goes the acquisition info: the year and source from which the plant was acquired. Keeping this information in the field is nice when I transplant or divide things. It reminds me of my past gardens, and invokes reflection on all that has passed between me and my plants.

  16. Xris nailed this one…

    The journals and tags and such are not just organization. They are evocative and invocative. They are there to improve the experience. If FOR YOU they don’t, then don’t do it. If they do, then there are some great tips in these comments.

  17. I love the Harry Potter idea! My oldest is just starting to read the books, so I will definitely copy your idea for next spring.

  18. Shira,
    I’ll email you, through your site, all the names & descriptions for the HP garden. May as well share the record keeing and research I did. Looks like you have two kids, You don’t have the time.

  19. Susan Harris… and when you posted about your garden journal last spring, twas me who commented that I was green with envy. I still am. I love your idea, and I am going to try it. Really, I am… this fall, er winter, when I have more time!

  20. I’ve kept a handwritten journal in diary form since the 1980’s. It started out as a way to remember where I planted things, but has evolved into a pleasurable way to end a day in the garden; writing “what I did today” at night. I also keep ideas I have seen in magazines or on garden visits, and lately I have taken to bringing it on garden trips to record my impressions and ideas from such places as Winterthur and Chanticleer. I also use it to take
    notes from books I check out of the libary on various plants or types of gardens.
    I think the best part about it is going back and reading what I thought and how I gardened many years ago, and how far I’ve come in skill and philosophy. Rereading everything not only refreshes my memory, but has become a fun winter activity in itself. But I think you should only do it if it’s something you enjoy doing; so no guilt trips!!

  21. Here’s my system:

    1) Save the plant tags.
    2) Put plant tags in empty pots under the house when I go wash up. Make plans to retrieve tags tomorrow.
    3) Forget about tags.
    4) Many months later, see something unfamiliar in my flowerbed. Take photo and blog about garden gnomes surrepititiously planting things.
    5) Go get a plastic pot for some purpose.
    6) Find tag.
    7) Put it down, make mental note to put in notebook.
    8. Return to step 3

  22. I try to keep a journal, but I really only succeeded the year we moved here and I was starting all over from less than zero. I consult the journal now, to remind myself of which apple variety is which, and such. But generally I keep a photo diary, although in no formal way. Digital is a great invention.

  23. I’ve been keeping a sporadic garden log in the form of a wiki (like wikipedia, but just on my own computer) for the past 4 years. Wikis can be organized in many ways, are searchable like any database, and allow me to load photographs for instant comparison of the garden from year to year or month to month. Here in southern Ontario the differences between the garden in late April and late June are astounding and inspiring. I’m delighted to have the record of our progress in shaping our little plot. Just as children change incrementally, so do gardens and the drama of the changes can be lost on us when we are bound up with their details every day. Record keeping allows us to perceive the amazing changes in the garden over time. One of the most useful things about the wikki, besides letting me track what’s blooming when, is the record of the provenance of my plants, so when something’s doing well, I know where I can get another, and when it fails, I know who can share the blame.

    So, I do plant and tell, but only to remind myself of all the things I’ll have forgotten by next year.

  24. I keep track through a notebook separated into sections: 1)timeline/journal, 2)info/by plant tips for the future, 3)plant tidbits I’ve picked up, 4)drawings of grandiose plans I’m dreaming of, 5)great landscaping/garden ideas as I come across them, and 6)plants I’d like to try next year. I’ve also taken to blogging and have tons of pictures in the Picasa program on my computer that I occasionally look through to see how the gardens have progressed. , and how far I’ve come as a gardener!

  25. I try ***really hard*** to be responsible and record what I plant and when. But since I’ve had multiple websites (Thanks! OregonLive!) it’s been a bit difficult to do so. I try the best I can, and I blog. Thank goddess for blogging!

  26. Up until this year I have not kept a gardening journal. This year is different, because I feel like I have actually accomplished something in my yard. My 2 year old son, Evan, died last year, and I was bound and determined to create a memorial garden in his honor. With a lot of hard work, help from family, and lots of plant donations from friends, I did it! I wanted to include plants with fun flowers, as well as ones with interesting common names (like Christmas fern and Fairy’s wand.) I also purchased a couple of plants with Evan as part of the cultivar name. These plants I have marked. I also try to mark spring ephemerals, so I don’t inadvertently dig them up! I have tried to keep up with bloom times on my calendar, and I, too, have started a blog. It deals with grief, memories, and some gardening, too. It’s a start!

    (Oh and thanks for the Harry Potter idea…it’s fantastic!)

  27. Swag notwithstanding, the comments on this have been excellant reading. I thought I was just being a bit compulsive when I took seasonal notes on my garden and made a MSpaint sketch of the garden on my computer to show where the plants were. But I have really enjoyed the time I spent planning and making notes on my garden. I have only been gardening for 3 years now and I am still trying to figure out what will grow in my area.

    My concerns so far have been small, like wondering if I should try planting garlic (it is growing well now actually). I am just beginning to start thinking about different varieties of the plants I am growing (I want some of the purple garlic among others). Having seen the comments posted here I will make sure to start taking better notes when I plant and not feel quite so odd enjoying the odd hours spent taking my notes.

    So far almost all of my plants have come from either the nursery up the road, or seed packages I bought there. Keeping track of the origins of my plants hadn’t really occurred to me, but I will be sure to do so once I start getting them from other sources.

    Thanks much to the people who posted!

  28. This year, my husband decided that we would become Very Serious about keeping a record of our veg garden. I happily agreed because I tend towards obsessive behavior, and thought I would have fun with meticulous measurements and lists and journals of observations.

    We got organized and started out the season with a lined notebook, graphing paper, labled seed trays, sharpie pens, 50 plastic plant markers, and an extensive grid of plants with spaces to fill in relevant details.

    Now, more than two months after we first began planting, we have a wrinkly notebook that got left in the rain; a (perfectly scale!) map of the garden that is sadly filled with designations such as “Some Kind of Tomato,” “Shallots or Onions,” “Herb?” and “???”; trays of mystery seedlings; dried up sharpies; approximately 47 plastic plant markers; and three shoeboxes full of seeds in paper envelopes and film containers.

    But it has been fun–not to mention amusing to compare what we actually have with our ambitious plan–and the information we have now is far more complete that what we’ve had in the past. I think we’ll restock on permanent markers and continue next year. Hopefully we’ll be better with practice.

  29. One word – spreadsheets. I create workbooks of all of my seed and bulb orders each spring and fall, with pages for each garden and each catalog I order from. The workbooks have become so numerous and so lengthy that I am now studying up on database design so that I will have better access to and make better use of all of this information that I have accumulated over the years. Oh, and my blog and photos are pretty helpful too!

  30. I tag, really I do. it’s just that half my seed boxes read something like “Mystery 14”. I take the little foil packets out of the paper packets with the names on and put them down – but then can’t remember which packet each came out of. Or I get them into the seed boxes, turn round to write the tags and … now which box did I plant the Campanula in ?

    I try hard every year. Do one at a time, I tell myself. Open, plant and tag. Open, plant and tag. But somehow …

    When they come up, things get a bit better, but not much. Oh, those are the petunias – but are they the white petunias or the purple ones? And later, after they’ve been planted out – how did that yellow antirrhinum get into the middle of the pink ones?

    I will do better next year, I promise I will.

  31. Spreadsheets, labels, blogging and more…

    Are just merely efforts to retain plant lore…

    Ability to remember flees with each passing year…

    One desires to call a plant by other than…red flower, dear…

    Flowers that bloom yearly on the exact same date…

    Prove they remember, even if gardeners can only relate…

    That they think it blooms then, but they’re really not sure…

    Wasn’t it later last year or was it earlier, they’ll just defer…

    It must be the weather or maybe not enough rain…

    As gardeners wonder, fret and complain…

    If those records were kept, better yet checked to see…

    That the plants are on schedule and all is as it is meant to be.

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