Garden journals aren’t the only option for recording what you’re growing. Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock

All the wise garden gurus advise gardeners to keep a journal describing their successes and failures. Mostly such documents prevent gardeners from repeating their mistakes.

One mistake I am not going to make again is trying to keep a garden journal. I’ve had too many failures. But I do know the value of recording what I’m growing, I just do it in a different way, and I suggest every gardener find the one that works best for them.

A friend actually keeps a spreadsheet for her garden. She includes the species of each plant, when and where she acquired it, when and where it was planted, when fertilized, when it flowered and, if relevant, produced a harvestable crop, and how bountiful it was. She also includes when it was divided, if ever, and when it was moved, because she changes her mind a lot. Finally, she includes when it died or she got bored with it and pulled it out of the garden.

All that information is good to have, especially when going through catalogs or walking through plant nurseries to buy plants. You don’t want to buy a plant that has failed for you in the past just because you successfully put that failure out of your mind.

If doing an old-fashioned vegetable garden, it makes sense to create a plot plan of what was planted where, so you can mix it up (for-profit farmers call it rotating their crops) the following year.

I have heard of people keeping track of how much money they spent on seeds, fertilizer and other garden items, and keeping it from year to year. That is something the IRS requires professional farmers to do, and it might be interesting for amateurs, but we won’t do that. It’s a miracle we get our regular taxes done each year.


Sometime in the 1980s, when our current vegetable garden plot was created, I started to carry a reporter’s notebook into the garden, marking down what was planted when and where, how it produced, and much of the information mentioned above. I was working evenings then, and what seems to have happened is that I gardened right up until it was time to shower and head to work.

After a shift working as an editor, trying to improve other people’s writing, I couldn’t summon up the energy to do more writing in the garden notebook when I got home.

In 2012, the first gardening season after I retired from my full-time job, I started a garden notebook on my home computer. Again, after a few weeks, I couldn’t summon the energy to write in it. Maybe my mind wouldn’t let me write unless I was getting paid for it.

The lack of a gardening journal or spreadsheet does not mean we have no record of what we are growing in our garden. It traditionally begins in January as we are going through the gardening catalogs, preparing our annual seed order. Now the catalogs arrive around Thanksgiving, if not earlier. We highlight or underline – depending on which type of pen is nearby – each seed we order and how much. We do the same for the trees, perennials and seedlings we order.

When the seedlings arrive, we keep the sheets that come with them, basically a listing of our order and planting instructions, describing what can be expected if the plant succeeds. Nancy has folders of them in her desk.

I do have one advantage over most gardeners. I write this column each week, and while not all of the columns are about what we are doing in our own gardens, a lot of them are. I spend a surprising amount of time going to the Press Herald website to remind myself about what I have said and done before.


Our prime record, though, is photos. I’m not a great photographer, even though I took a photography course in the ’70s at what is now the University of Southern Maine, but I have always been a frequent photographer – even before digital photography made taking photos almost free.

I never go into the yard without my camera phone, taking pictures of each plant’s first blossom, the first of each variety of vegetable, how much we have harvested, what new varieties we have planted.

All those photos are saved automatically in some cloud somewhere – I neither have nor want the technical details – and I can get them whenever I want.

If I want to know the lawn was full of violets, as in a photo that appeared two weeks ago, or any other relevant bloom or harvest time, I just search the photos. That photo was May 5, 2022. No writing required. I just hope that cloud doesn’t disappear.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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