Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

Winter days are a good time to plot gardens in a journal

February 21, 2002


Gardens are deceptively dormant in the winter. They are gray-brown and icy-crisp above, but they stir with small signs of life below.

So it is with gardeners.

By Susan ReimerThe Baltimore SunA journal can be a gardener's best friend, second only to a good pair of clippers. Here are a dozen tips for creating a journal that works as well as you do.1. Start now to plan for spring. Walk your garden and begin a to-do list.2. A simple three-ring binder, to which you can add pages, is a good beginning. Add subject dividers to help organize your notes.3. You can diagram your beds to scale on graph paper, but even simple drawings will help you remember where your bulbs and perennials are.4. Make an inventory of your plants and save room for notes on each: bloom times, diseases, fertilizing, pruning or dividing times, and how each plant fared in your microclimate.5. Reserve a section for calendar pages. Keep weather records, such as the average last day for a killing frost. Include planting and harvesting dates for your vegetables.6. Include a plastic sleeve where you can quickly store plant markers, nursery receipts or seed packets. Transfer the information to your journal when you have time.7. Create a section in your journal for how-to articles and gardening advice and another for pictures from magazines or catalogs of plantings you'd like to try.8. Keep your journal with your gardening tools. It might get a little dirty, but it will be handy when you want to record an inspiration.9. Long, poetic entries are not necessary in this kind of journal. A quick observation on a sticky note, to be recorded later, will do.10. If you don't have time during the summer, fall is a good time to record your observations, make plans and create a to-do list.11. Take photos of your beds at different times in the growing season. They will help you plan for bare spots and for pleasing color combinations. And they will cheer you during the winter.12. Be sure to include family members, neighbors or pets in your pictures. That way, your journal becomes an informal record of your life, not just the life of your garden.

Their tools may be oiled and shelved, their sun hats hung and their gloves lifeless, but in winter, gardeners are thinking about their gardens.

Winter is the ideal time for such planning. The chores of spring, summer and fall do not allow for rumination. So gardeners have learned the hard way to write down their winter inspirations in a gardener's journal.

"Winter is sort of a dream time," says Sharon Dick of Lutherville, Md.. "It is how I keep my garden alive in my mind."

Hers is a very small garden, so the drawings and notes that she keeps in her journal must be precise.

"Every inch of space has a record. I have to know where I am not to dig."

Right now, Dick has her garden charts in front of her, with her catalogs fanned out on one side, and snapshots of her garden in various states of bloom on the other.

She doesn't plan for the sake of the garden, as much as she plans for the sake of the creatures that are attracted to it.

"I am concentrating on spicy, floral plants that are blue because bees are attracted to them," says Dick.

Bookstore shelves are crowded with commercially produced garden journals to keep pace with this ancient occupation, in full flower once again.

These journals are often quite lovely, with colorful pictures and delicate drawings, bits of poetry or wisdom.

They can be practical, too. Some have calendar pages; grids for drawing in beds; formatted pages for listing botanical names, bloom times and other data.

Some have how-to articles, zone maps, plastic sleeves for photos or plant tags, lists of garden literature or seed sources, Web sites and local information. The best ones have room for several years of notes.

These might be too frilly or too confining for the down and dirty gardener. In that case, a simple three-ring binder works just fine.

Journaling may sound like a waste of daylight to a gardener, until volume and complexity overrun short-term memory.

That is what finally motivated Diana Jones of Baltimore to undertake the tedious task of graphing her yard to scale: "I skewered too many bulbs," she said.

"I started pacing off and recording the hardscape," she said. "The house, the fence, the gazebo."

Over that drawing, she layered several pages of tracing paper. On one page, she would record bulbs. On another, perennials. All in color. Anyone, she says, can look at her drawings and stand in her back yard and see where things will come up.

"It was very labor-intensive," said Jones, who has the advantage of a background in art and design.

"But in the end, I was able to chronicle the colors and the seasons of the garden."

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