Simple Ways to Start a Garden Journal

So goes my garden journal entry for May 28, 2013:


“…The rain broke long enough this afternoon for me to do a little gardening for about 90 minutes. The dogs were as delighted as I was to be outside for a change. I cut back a lot of the lady ferns that were blocking the paths, and pulled the sweet woodruff from the paths in the wood. There is a still lot to do but it was only a short window of time before the rains came again. No sign of dahlia growth on any of the new tubers yet. I am hoping this rain hasn’t rotted them. The weather was so nice earlier in May that I thought I would be safe. Ha.

At least the two Japanese maples that I had moved earlier this month look happy and I haven’t had to water them since they were transplanted….”

Keeping a Garden Journal Should be Fun!

I try to write something every day that I am able to be in the garden. It’s a little easier for me to have my journal on my computer than in a notebook. I sit at my computer desk in front of a huge window that allows me to look out onto a courtyard in my yard. (The only drawback to this is that it allows me to see more weeds that need to be pulled!) But there are as many ways to keep a garden journal as there are gardeners.

The first hurdle to get over is to avoid looking at journaling as a chore or an assignment. This is not a composition to be turned in for Mrs. Miller to grade for a 7th grade English class. A garden journal is, instead, a tool to be used as best fits the gardener who wrote it.

If just the details are for you…

Some gardeners may want only to record details. In this case, a tablet of graph paper may be all you need, with columns set up for dates, high and low temperatures, weather conditions, and maybe even barometer readings. This is a more scientific approach than I enjoy, but that’s the beauty of journaling: it’s your journal so you get to keep it the way you want. You will want to include columns that are interesting and relevant to you.

If making it reader-friendly is for you…

I prefer to create a reader-friendly form of journal. I include my opinions as well as my observations. If there is something strange going on, I am sure to include that. For example, in June of 2005, an albino goldfinch visited our garden feeders for about six weeks and then disappeared, never to be seen again. This was something I recorded every day, even to the point of naming her “Marilyn.” (What better name for a platinum blonde?)

If tracking changes with photos is for you….

Another plus of having my journal on the computer is the ability to insert photographs of the garden as it progresses each month. And because photographs have been taken over several years, this has become an invaluable tool. It not only allows me to see what is planted and where for the current garden, but it gives me a good comparison from year to year, season to season. I must admit, it is also fun for me to go back and see what the beds looked like when I first planted then and how they look today.


Carla's garden in June
Carla’s garden in June, 2008

Carla's jounral
Same garden view in Carla’s garden, 2013!


Reviewing Past Journals to See Patterns in My Garden

My journals are not only fun and interesting to read, they are valuable from a gardening perspective, too. I just today reviewed my journal from 2012 and found that it was rainy at the end of last May, too. So that intrigued me. Has it been rainy at the end of May in other years?

Once the year is over, I print out my journal and place it in a binder so it is easy to reference.

On May 22, 2008, I wrote “Still cold and rainy. Will summer ever come?” But in 2007, I wrote “A day of rain after many nice days in the last couple of weeks.” So I can see a pattern beginning to form. Early May is often nice; late May, not so much.

In looking through the most recent journals, I am finding that June is often rainy and/or cool, and it’s not until July 4th that we start to see nicer, warmer weather. That is also reflected in the vegetables and their harvest times. In fact, when we first moved to Oregon my early journals are almost blank for May and June, indicating a time of no gardening.

Recognizing the Decline of my Japanese Maple ‘Shiraz’

Of course, not all changes are positive. One of the loveliest Japanese maples I have had the pleasure to own is a ‘Shiraz’, a gift from a dear friend.

The first year it thrived, the second, it did less well, and the third, it was struggling. This is one of the trees I referred to in my May 2013 journal entry above as having moved. The photos let me see the decline in more graphic terms and so I was prompted to action.

#3 Acer palmatum 'Shiraz' 2010
Acer palmatum ‘Shiraz’ 2010
Acer palmatum 'Shiraz' 2013
Acer palmatum ‘Shiraz’ 2013

Finding ‘Your Way’ to Journal

There are many dedicated gardening journals on the market, but a notebook or even a composition book can be just as effective.

If you like to draw, you may want to start out with a sketch book and make quick, informal sketches or draw plans of the beds.  There are also books with blank pages that are water-resistant in case they get splashed. These are a little more expensive but can be found online.

Garden Journal
My Garden Journal

Even a calendar with large spaces for the days can work if you are a minimalist. You can be as brief as you like (planted peas in NW veggie bed) and yet record all the necessary information in one place. A calendar could also be a means to record a quick reminder for a day when you have the time to sit down and detail your observations.

As I mentioned, I take notes on my computer, then, print out my journal and place it in a binder so it is easy to reference.

The important part of starting a journal is to be as consistent as possible in your entries. That spring when I had no entries for May or June wasn’t really helpful. Subsequent years certainly have been.

Have you started a garden journal yet? How did you set up yours?     

~ Carla Albright, Tillamook County Oregon Master Gardener


5 Replies to “Simple Ways to Start a Garden Journal”

  1. Fantastic blog post, Carla. I have struggled over many years to come up with a journal system that meets my needs (informative, brief and doesn’t feel like ‘one more thing I have to do’). I really appreciate your offering different journaling options that can be adopted and modified to meet many different needs. I also appreciate your offering insights gained from your own journal entries. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. HI Carla,

    Like Gail, I don’t know if I have one system, but I do take cryptic notes about what blooms when in a note book — usually some of the same plants from year to year. This year we are about 3 weeks behind the growing pattern we’ve observed for the last 6 years or so…

    I also take photos every year of my plants, like you mentioned. I store them (and share them) on Flickr. In Flickr I can go back in the archives (example here: and compare the photos I’ve taken in May, for example….using Flickr takes a lot of the pressure off of organizing things all at once.

    I do like your idea of saving your plant tags in a notebook. I think I’ll try and keep that up. In my opinion, knowing the plant name is half the battle of solving any garden problems that may arise. AND, keeping the plant tags in a couple sleeves in a binder looks pretty easy to do….

    In summary, my garden journal in current form would include: cryptic notes about what blooms when, photo gallery on Flickr, a few pages of plant tabs in a three ring binder.

    Thanks for inspiring us all to think about what would be helpful!

  3. Hi Carla,

    Thanks for the many helpful hints on starting a gardening journal. I started my garden last year (raised beds) and used a composition book as a journal. Hopefully more will be recorded in the journal this year as I go along. I like to use mine for a tracking purpose; however, I find that combining several different types of journaling have occurred. Thanks again for the much needed guidance and information.


  4. I’ve realized journaling will probably help me so I’ve been trying to get started. So far I’ve saved tags and taken pictures. I’ve got an old yard with lots of wonderful bushes and trees and lots of other stuff run rampant. I like your ideas.

  5. I’m glad my tips have been helpful. Keep in mind this is a personal task that will help for the future, not to be seen as a chore equal to, say, weedingor cleaning pots. Make if fun and you will be more likely to keep going. And one of the most fun things about journaling is to look back once you have a few years under your belt and see what was happening when you first started keeping track. I’ll bet you find all sorts of progress, not only in the garden but in your journal. ~ Carla

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