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© Carol Lefevre 2013 © Carol Lefevre 2013 © Carol Lefevre 2013


March 22nd....the purple-leafed basil has turned out to be an inspired choice for the late summer border, the perfect foil for those dazzling lime-green zinnias called 'Envy'...

In the midst of busy lives, the diary habit may seem fiddly and time-consuming, a charming pastime that belongs to another era. Yet gardens grow at the same rate as they always have; it is only we humans who have speeded up, so the more hectic the life, the more sense it makes to establish a garden journal or scrapbook. Your attention to detail will be rewarded with healthier plants, shrubs and trees, and keeping the journal up to date will soon become a pleasure rather than a chore. In the long run, it will also save both time and money.

At a purely practical level, the diary can be a place to file all those tags from new plants which invariably disappear in garden beds, or become so faded that their species and varieties are impossible to decipher. Transferring the information from the tags into your diary creates a permanent record of what you plant, as well as preserving the instructions for future care, which most plant labels carry. Pushed for time, simply tape or staple the plastic tag to the page and scribble the date beside it. For this kind of no-nonsense record, seek out a sturdy book with thick pages, one that will accommodate staples, glue and sticky-tape, one you will be happy to handle with potting mix under your fingernails. Pasting a calendar inside the front cover makes it easy to note when roses or fruit trees should be pruned, sprayed or fertilised.

If you regularly raise plants from seed, the diary will evolve into a record of what worked or didn’t work. Seed companies sometimes offer alternative planting times, but through keeping your own climate and soil-specific notes you will quickly learn which plants thrive best from a spring sowing rather than the autumn option on the packet. Without a record of successes and failures, it can take a couple of seasons to work out what went wrong. The diary can also be a place to paste cuttings gleaned from gardening magazines – articles on pests and diseases, companion planting, or seasonal tips on subjects you are keen on, such as growing winter vegetables. Seed catalogues, along with contact details of garden suppliers and services, can be kept in the back so that you will always be able to lay hands on them.

Gardens evolve slowly, and a photographic journal, or even a diary in which you glue the odd seasonal snapshot, can be an encouraging reminder of how far a garden has come. Pictures taken six months or a year after the makeover of an existing garden, or after starting one from scratch, can be deeply gratifying. Just because gardening is such a slow art and daily life so distracting, there are a million and one little jobs that can be forgotten if we do not write them down. It goes without saying that knowing which of a row of apple trees is ‘Beauty of Bath’ and which ‘Lord Lambourne’ is useful information to have, and in this a garden diary is an immensely useful aide-mémoire.

Aside from its practical aspects, the diary can also become an imaginative space where horticultural dreams both large and small can be explored. Use the journal to sketch plans for hard landscaping – practical walls, paving, raised beds, a dreamy, lattice-walled gazebo at the end of a path, a kissing gate or a folly. The diary is the place where you can allow your gardening dreams to unfold without self-censoring; perhaps you yearn to create a miniature white garden, a meditation corner, a menagerie of topiary shapes, or to replace the lawn with a dense, scented plant mass within which shady nooks shelter vintage wicker chairs. Whatever your botanical flights of fancy, allow them to take wing within the pages of your private notebook. Remember that for anything to become a reality it must first be thought of; by thinking it out and writing it down you will move a step closer to achieving your dream garden.

A scrapbook with pages of recycled paper makes an attractive background for a gardener’s photographic journal.
© Carol Lefevre 2013

The Art of the Garden Diary was published in SA Life.
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