Cruden farm

To journal or to garden?

There is a case to be made that time spent writing in a garden journal could be much better spent staying out in the garden. I make the case myself all the time, especially if the sun is shining. Then, some time later, I’ll find a nugget of usefulness in my desultorily kept journal, and vow, all over again, to do a better job of keeping my garden notes.

My current journal is a notebook, divided into months. On the odd occasions I fill it in, I note the date, the weather, what’s flowering, what’s impressing me, any problems, and an account of what I’ve been doing – all of which sounds more organised than it is. Months start from the back of the book too, and this back-to-front section is where I jot down what needs to be done; reminders of when to prune and when to move and when to feed various plants. It’s far from ideal.

Better, would be to take pictures often, and organise them into months so that I could see the changes and development of different parts of the garden over time. In this more organised future, I might have a spreadsheet-type arrangement for every plant in my garden, with notes on its botanical name, family and origins and its expected size and features. I could fill in where it had been planted and when, what I’d done to it and how it was behaving, when it was looking beautiful and when bedraggled. I’d have a separate section for edible plants, with harvest yields carefully noted. (As it happens you can download just such a template from for free.)

Somewhere else I’d have a garden inspiration journal, with pictures of beautiful plantings, paving patterns and pergola designs; notes about sculptors and furniture makers; and a file for seed, bulb and perennial catalogues. In this alternative universe I am also a great illustrator and fill my book with hand drawn sketches of plants, artistic doodles and pressed flowers (there are lots of such things on Pinterest to inspire, just search ‘garden journal’). And because I’ve always wanted to live in a house with a veranda, there’d be a section just for pictures of verandas.

You can see why the enormity of the garden journaling project makes me simply pick up my secateurs and head into the garden. And if it’s dark or raining, instead of picking up my own garden journal, I’m likely to pick up Elizabeth von Arnim’s. Kirribilli-born Elizabeth married a Prussian aristocrat in 1891 and fell in love with his country estate, where she made a garden. She is great company, an enthusiastic gardener and a wonderful writer. But as Elizabeth and her German Garden won’t remind me when I should prune the wisteria, I persevere with my ill-kept but surprisingly useful little notebook.

I’d love to know what you do…

By the way the image at the top of this post is Cruden Farm, the wonderful garden of Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. I thought this bench looked like just the place to write up a garden journal. There’s some more on Cruden Farm here.


2 thoughts on “To journal or to garden?

  1. Hi Robin,

    I had a good chuckle as I read your article over yesterday’s Sunday breakfast!

    You see I spent several afternoons last week sifting through piles of plant labels,
    lists, orders, scribbles on sheets of paper and various garden journal notebooks
    I’ve begun over the years… an attempt to compile them ONCE & FOR ALL!!!
    It’s now or never – my winter task.

    There’s a lovely garden book of empty pages I must have bought about 20 years
    ago, but could never bring myself to commit anything to its pages ’til things had
    settled. Oh how much I’ve learned and how many plants have fallen by the way-
    side! So all being well, once I’ve cleared the left cupboard of the kitchen dresser
    (this arvo’s job)….where hopefully I’ll find more plant labels, I intend to WRITE in
    the book! Though in pencil!

    I hope this finds you in good order and to catch up again soon.

    Very best wishes


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