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Monday, February 14, 2011

Documenting My Green Thumb (And A Lack Thereof)

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

Many people keep journals. It's a great way to keep track of where you've been, what you've done, who you were with, and how you felt. A few years ago, I decided to keep a journal, but not just a daily or a travel journal. I decided to keep a garden journal.

Moving into a new house surrounded by a half acre of clay-like dirt and mud was like an artist starting work with a blank canvas. First, we got grass to grow. Then it was time for landscaping. Warm-weather weekends were spent strolling through nurseries and outdoor centers. We examined trees, bushes, ground covers, and flowers. Winter months were spent perusing mail-order garden catalogs in search of bulbs and perennials best suited to our Midwest growing zone.

I soon realized that landscape gardening can be an exercise in trial and error. Some plantings bloomed and flourished almost immediately. Others shriveled up, fizzled out, or never emerged. Too much sun. Too little sun. Not enough moisture. Fertilization needs. Invasive insects. Overabundant cultivator production. Poor soil quality. Drainage issues. I couldn't keep track of all this in my head. Maybe writing down some of it would help.

I purchased a folder and began stuffing it full of scraps of paper filled with scribbled notes about blooming apple trees, yews, lilac bushes and day lilies. Not very organized, but at least I knew where to find everything related to our gardening and landscaping efforts.

One day while wandering through a bookstore, I spotted Mary Engelbreit's Gardener's Journal. The journal was divided into sections, including Climate & Conditions, Current Garden Grid, Future Plans, Monthly Summary, Plantings Record and Notes. It also featured lots of Engelbreit's colorful illustrations. I could track our lawn and gardening successes and failures, and perhaps make better decisions about what to plant in the future. I could even tuck photos of the "successes" in the back.

Keeping a garden journal has been an educational experience for me. It's interesting to note how variances in weather and seasonal conditions through the years have impacted our plants and landscaping. It's also fun to look back at the names of friends and relatives who have given me various offshoots, bulbs, plants and seeds from their gardens and how their offerings, like our relationships, have matured and developed through the years.

There are no rules for keeping a garden journal. The journal itself can be as simple as a lined composition notebook, or as richly detailed as a bound volume with tabbed chapters, pocket organizers and photo sleeves. A recent search on and showed the availability of an assortment of garden journals ranging in price from $8.95 to $39.95. And the Mary Engelbreit journal like mine from the 1990s is still available.

I've never kept a travel journal, and I haven't kept a daily journal since high school, but my garden journal is a prized possession, and a great source of inspiration on cold, dreary winter days.

1 comment:

  1. I remember how my husband had to go out and buy a pickax for us to plant trees in our first house in Missouri. We were surrounded by just over a half an acre of clay. Picking rocks was a daily activity for me and the kids until the grass came in.

    A friend of mine was so frustrated with some of the guesswork in gardening that she and a friend started this business named Plumstone that has products like SunSticks and SoilSticks that can actually measure the light in a specific location in your yard and the pH of the soil. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of gardening, but the measurements could still go in those gorgeous garden journals.