Garden Journal Series: Name That Plant

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


rose label and notes in journal with recycled scissors

Getting to know your plants on a first-name basis takes time and patience. Labels help.

These days, the labels that come with plants are big, colorful, and full of information. They’re designed to catch your attention at a garden shop, to help you choose plants that suit the conditions in your garden, and to care for them properly once they’re planted. Some labels suggest good companion plants and even show a palette of complementary colors.


achillea label in the garden


In flower beds, these big labels are actually too big and bright, but they are great to tuck into the pages of a garden journal. (I rarely buy just one of anything, so I usually have an extra label for my journal.) I often bury big labels so only the name of the plant shows. That’s about all I need to know when I’m outside, anyway. In my journal, I want the details.      


labels and spreadsheet on garden journal


My journal’s pages are full of variations on the basic theme of the label. Packing slips from mail-order nurseries and typed-up notes from reference books supplement the labels that come with plants. Seed packets, ripped open and usually a little muddy, are stapled to the pages. Sometimes I stuff an envelope full of the labels from plants in a single newly planted flower bed and slip the whole thing into my journal. I write the date on the front of the envelope, and occasionally I even sketch a quick map of where everything is planted in the bed.




When I planted 10 new rose bushes in my garden in Virginia last year, I left most of the labels on the roses outside, but brought in a few duplicates. I clipped out catalog pictures and descriptions of the roses for my journal and took a few notes on which rose was planted where. I never seem to record my purchases the same way twice, but, over the years, I have created an impressive paper trail of the plants in my garden. And it’s a good thing, because garden conditions are rough on labels. In a journal, labels last forever.

Nothing is more direct and down to earth than gardening, but the written record is important, too, if only to keep it all straight. A gardener goes through a lot of plants and enthusiasms in life, and a journal — no matter how you keep it — helps you capture the whole endlessly changing experience.