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My garden journal and the shoebox I keep my business paperwork in are both stuffed full of notes and receipts, organized more or less chronologically. Once a year, I set aside a weekend to type up the paperwork in my shoebox, before turning it over to a professional accountant. My garden journal, bookmarked with seed packets and full of newspaper clippings, sketches, plant labels, and computer printouts, never gets this treatment. Its idiosyncratic organization and inserts will remain part of its charm.
Of course, a garden journal is the place to record plant purchases, note extremes of weather, celebrate successes in the garden, and bemoan the loss of a crop or a favorite plant. It is also a wonderful place in which to reminisce, to dig into seasons gone by — to compare prices or winters in other years, but also for the little hints and reminders of life’s events, experienced through the filtering lens of a pastime that fills a lot of my life. It always gives me pause when I find a pressed pansy or the scattered petals of a tulip in the pages of my journal.
Sometimes I pick a flower and bring it inside for a closer look, to savor its silky petals or to examine its intricate form under a magnifying glass. These blooms often end up pressed in my garden journal. My goals are not really scientific: flowers and leaves merely embellish my notes. Taking a bloom out of its context in the garden and pressing it in my journal helps bring the pages to life: I’ll be flipping through my journal in January and find a pressed tropical caladium leaf from a summer long ago, as thin and delicate as tissue. On another page, in another season, I have unceremoniously taped down the little ribbon-like blooms of a witch hazel.
Although I’m obviously not very strict about it, I am following a fine scholarly tradition. A botanist’s collection of dried plants, including not just the flowers, but also leaves, stems, and roots, if possible, with perhaps some notes on where the plant is found or what it is used for, is called an herbarium. A collection of herbarium specimens might represent the plants of a specific area, or the plants found on a voyage of discovery.
One of my favorite botanists was John Clayton, an 18th century court clerk in Virginia who studied botany and meticulously compiled the flora of Virginia. Clayton’s herbarium, preserved at the British Museum in London, includes more than 700 sheets. Many of his specimens are decorated with fanciful ribbons, hand drawn on the pages. Even scientists had fun with their pressed plants. That’s a practice I highly recommend.