So let’s say you’ve been gardening for a few years, and you’ve been really, really consistent at keeping your garden journal. You’ve noted when your crocus and forsythia bloom, the date of the first and last frost, monthly rain or snowfall amounts, maybe when you spotted your first hummingbird, or when you were able to plant your first peas and pick your first tomato. By now you have loads of information that is fun to look back on during the dark days of winter, but beyond a walk down memory lane, what are these records good for?
Well … in the very near future you may be able to submit this information to an historical database that will input similar information from gardeners across the U.S., all for the lofty purpose of tracking climate change.
If this topic sounds vaguely familiar, you probably read my previous posts on garden journals and on Project BudBurst. Hint: scroll down, but not until you’ve finished reading here. I’d like to say I learned all this through in depth research into phenology, but the reality is I simply learned of this by listening to the radio while driving in my car. Leave it to NPR. Their Friday afternoon broadcast, Science Friday, focused the first half of the show on phenology and the USA National Phenology Network. The topic? This group’s attempt to encourage citizen volunteers to monitor plant species … what we know as Project BudBurst. But in true NPR fashion, they delved much deeper into the numerous and expansive missions of the phenology org. They highlighted long-term plans to create this historical dataset of all the records of all the gardeners willing to share their years of journal notation; as well as their other future plans, like expanding into animal phenology in 2010. Learn more by clicking on the ‘participate’ link on their website.
How cool is this? Rather than being relegated to a musty attic or some dusty shelf, your records may actually be put to use to help monitor the life of our planet … or at least our United States’ portion of it. Think of the impressive undertaking this is, and how constructive these collective data could be. It’s like voting … your single vote may seem miniscule, but all votes compiled together direct a nation.
In deference to Pig Pen and his creator (and I know some of you will get this) … It kinda makes you look at that dusty garden journal with a little respect.
Look out at your favorite garden or yard view and try to imagine – through the snow cover – what it will look like in full summer bloom. Now examine your least favorite view the same way. Ok … repeat these mental exercises as if you were in the midst of planting season and were trying to decide if a particular shrub, vine, perennial, statue, arbor, or tree will accent, block, or generally fit into an area you are trying to improve. Memory is not accurate. In trying to visualize a specific site you’re likely to miss or forget a very important point, but the memory-jolting solution is a just a shutter-click away with a digital camera.
A previous post outlines my experience with written – or word processed – journals. I have high hopes the current a hard copy system will fit my needs. My other valuable recordkeeping tool an Olympus, Stylus 600 digital camera – small enough to slide into a pocket – which allows me to take shots to share, but also helps photo-track various parts of my yard and garden throughout the seasons. Previous posts show some examples of different seasonal views and before-and-after examples. Each planting area is featured at its worst and best, with detailed enough close-ups to remind what is planted where. I have a bad habit of forgetting to label bulbs and then forgetting I planted them. I know, I know … this doesn’t reflect well on my journaling habits. There is an ‘up’ side though. I often ‘surprise’ myself when spring bulbs pop up in unanticipated locations!
The photos, cataloged by year and labeled according to planting areas in my computer, make year-to-year comparisons a snap. And in the dead of winter I can look back over the greener seasons, transport thoughts to warmer times, lift my spirits, and get my creative juices churning for ways to make things better, easier, and more pleasing.
Now, if I can just remember to shoot those daffodil beds as they emerge from the ground … nah … I’d rather be surprised.
I’ve tried many methods for journaling my gardening successes and failures, but have yet to devise one that I’m willing to reuse without revision. Store bought versions of garden journals are too generic for my taste and needs. I want a 3-ring binder type of set up that houses monthly pages for tracking seed purchases, planting dates, and how well each variety grows; diagrams of planting beds to track what is planted where; tags and labels from perennial plants, shrubs, and trees; and a place to keep any printed photos. I had been keeping a version of this until last year when opted to try keeping track of my seed planting in a database. I entered all my seeds, pertinent growing information, and where each was purchased; when planted indoors and out; and included sections to fill in the progress of each. That’s where it all fell apart. During the outdoor growing season I’m too anxious to get away from my computer to spend the time needed to type in the progress of each tomato, pepper, bean, lettuce, herb, etc. seedling … and their growth, plus track every flower, bulb, and shrub purchase. So I had to rely on memory to fill in the data over less busy winter months. The problem, of course, is the accuracy of recall, and the fact that I had no printed record of the 2008 growing season to add to previous years’ records for comparison.
So this year, I’m back to the 3-ring binder, but this method still needs some tweaking. I’m in the process of revising my calendar pages and my method for storing plant/shrub tags and keeping track of the growth or death of each. I’m no longer printing photos for my garden journal, as I keep an annual digital photo file in my computer that I can easily cross reference.
I’ll try to upload a photo of my calendar pages once they are completed, printed, and housed in the binder.
While I’m in the process of revision, I’d love to hear your suggestions. Do you keep a journal? What has and has not worked for you?