Garden: Dear Diary
The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey, who is just as anxious for spring as you are. But the delayed season is good for one thing: setting up a gardener’s essential tool. You might not appreciate it until next year, Brian says, but now is the time to start a garden diary.
If you’re feeling like spring is really late this year, you’re right. Of course, technically, spring didn’t officially start until today (March 20). But this time last year, we had snowdrops (Galanthus) coming up at the Garden, all of our witch hazel (Hamamelis Intermedia) was in full bloom, and there was a nice carpet of Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite) visible from the road as you drove by. Still, even with all of that spring around, it did snow almost 9 inches on this very day last year, so it wasn’t all deviled eggs and daffodils. March in our region — you either hate it or you HATE IT.
I know what happened this time last year because I wrote it down and took pictures. Keeping track of what happens in your garden year to year is not only an important tool in knowing what works and what doesn’t, but it also helps you to recognize patterns, not just with specific plants, but with your garden as a whole. Weather conditions, bloom dates, diseases and pests, fertilization schedules: these are all things worth noting and keeping a record of. You’ll not only know what to expect in your garden and when, but it will be an invaluable tool when you start planning for the following year. Like anything, the longer you have your garden and the bigger it gets, the harder it is to keep track of important information.
The degree to which you track your garden is up to you. I confess I’m not the most consistent person when it comes to keeping a journal. Growing up, I desperately wanted to be that self-reflective soul who ended each day with a poignant commentary on my life, a la Doogie Howser. The result was a shelf full of journals that had one entry each, and nothing but empty pages after that. I’m slightly better with my garden journal these days, but not by much; it’s sporadic at best. But, in this digital age, there are other easy ways to keep a garden journal.
One of my favorite ways to document my garden is through photography. Each photo I take on my digital camera has a date and time stamp, making it easy to scroll through the calendar year and see a visual representation of what was happening in my garden throughout. I also try to keep all of my gardening receipts together so when it comes to ordering compost I know who I ordered it from the previous year, how much I got, and how much I paid for it.
There are lots of high-end garden journals out there and if you’re looking for something fancy, you’ll have no problem finding it. However, in my opinion, a spiral notebook works just fine. Like most things in your gardening life, it’s going to get beat up and dirty. There is also something to be said for keeping your records online or in a computer program (like Word) that makes your journal searchable, so if you’re looking back to see when your alliums came up last year, it’s only a matter of a simple word search.
Now is the time to start your record keeping. The signs of spring are starting to pop up around us, in the garden and beyond. Soon there will be life all around us, and it’ll be hard to attend to anything else. Let’s cross our fingers that after a year of good garden journaling, you’ll be celebrating how early the spring of 2015 came compared to that of 2014.