Garden Journal Series: Make a Note of It

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Garden journal

A garden journal is permanent a work in progress: every time you make a note, the plot thickens. To make your garden journal a valuable reference work, you’ll want to include as much information as you can about the dates you plant and harvest, the varieties you plant and how they perform, the weather, soil amendments — anything that might affect conditions in your garden.

You can illustrate your journal with snapshots, with clippings, print-outs from web sites or sketches of planting schemes or successive versions of a map of your garden. To give your journal literary depth and character, it is important to try to capture your impressions about your garden, too. There is no right or wrong way to organize a journal. As long as your scheme works for you, it’s a good one.

Carl Klaus, professor emeritus at the University of Iowa and an essayist who specializes in non-fiction writing, spent a year keeping a meticulous garden journal. Klaus wrote a 500-word essay every day; the result was a book,My Vegetable Love (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). Klaus is a thoughtful, introspective expert on the personal essay, and he shared some of his ideas about garden journals with me:


Book of birds with feather


  • Writing is a form of memory, he says. “It stands in for long-term memory, and there is simply no substitute for it.”
  • Don’t let a rigid formula restrict your thoughts or your style. Your journal can change, just as your garden does.
  • Set yourself up: try to write a paragraph every day or two, or once a week. “Find the frequency, length, and form that are most congenial and productive for you,” he says. Try to stick with it, and if you slip, don’t let a guilty conscience keep you from picking it up again.


Garden journal with leaves


  • Write about what’s on your mind. “If we don’t convey that, we’re not conveying anything of ourselves but what we’ve seen.”
  • Think about why you are keeping a journal. “It is useful to put some large questions to yourself, as in ‘Why do I garden?,” he says.
  • There are always two stories in every successful essay: the story of experience (the facts) and the story of thought. “When essays or journals work, it’s because they weave both of these, the outer and the inner story,” he says.
  • When you take notes, “the more quickly you write it down the more reliable the record will be and the more immediacy the details will have, and the more you will be able to make of them in the days or years to come.”


Items for garden journal


  • When you tuck seed packets, plant labels, pressed flowers, and other things into your journal, they make it “a very wonderful source of enrichment both for the person whose journal it is and for somebody who comes upon such a journal.”