African Garden + work

The Journal

Elizabeth at Gardening While Intoxicated has raised the question, to journal or not to journal? I didn't feel that I could give adequate attention to this question in a comment, so the time has come to post about my journal, that odd compendium of blooming times, frost dates, house repairs and mental state. For some gardeners, blogging has replaced journal writing, but not for me. The historian in me delights in the physical record, the artifact that my completed journal has become. Yes, that right, I am on my second 10-year journal.

(Please excuse the stains on the cover of the completed journal. That's probably liquid fertilizer.) I use the same one as those serious garden journalers Carol, Dee & Kathy, the big one from Lee Valley. Here's a sample page.

Most pages do not have something written in each entry. Sometimes an entry will run beyond its alloted space. That's okay, I don't need it to look neat and perfect.

On January 19, 1996, the temperature soared to 61F, and I wrote: "It's amazing how green & fresh the digitalis [sic] leaves look. One of the alchemilla [sic] has new leaves underneath the large old leaves" The next day, I recorded the high and low as 13F and 4F, and wrote: "I just ordered a bunch of plants - it's the only way to get through the winter. That & going somewhere warm in February. I hope the plants didn't suffer too much shock in that 50 [degree] temperature drop." Then on February 3, 1996, I wrote: "record breaking cold. I refuse to leave the house" when it got down to -22F.

In the bad drought year 2005, I recorded the day our village enacted a total watering ban. At one point I wrote, "Summer continues on its brutal, relentless course." A few days later, when the temperature soared to 102F, I commented, "Hotter than blue blazes!" By the beginning of August, I noted that many plants were struggling with the drought, but the surprising thing was how well most of the Hostas were doing. Would I have remembered that if I hadn't recorded it?

Even aside from the record breaking events, there's a world of meaning in the following entry communicated through my handwriting:

Then there are the entries I can barely read, such as one on January 10, mistakenly dated 2000, instead of 2001, with the 1 written over the 0: "I'm so tired because a certain baby will not sleep well at night." My handwriting on most of the entries from that time is similarly scribbly. There are also odd little asides such as this one from May 30, 2003: "(can't write - children fighting)".
A journal is only as useful as what is put into it. In addition to recording the daily weather statistics, I record major changes and improvements to the property, such as a new roof, and when large trees have been cut down. I try to note when each plant comes into and goes out of bloom. This is useful for planning plant combinations and comparing weather conditions, as are the dates I turn off or on the heat and the air conditioning for the season. The journal entries tell the true story of plants which photographs don't. I note when only one of three plants is still blooming and whether pests have damaged blooms or foliage. I also try to memorialize all plant purchases and from where the plant came. This has been a great help in learning the names of all my plants. If I forget one, I just look it up in the journal. It also serves as a reminder of which plants I've lost.

Some entries are self-explanatory. On a day when the high was 68F and the low was 51F, I wrote "And this is June?" On January 7, 2006, is the entry "What is that bright thing in the sky? (The sun?)" There are similarly snarky comments scattered throughout the journals, which hopefully someday, after I'm gone, my children will read, and they will laugh and remember.

So if you're on the fence about starting a journal, I say go for it. I like the 10 year journal because it's easy to compare blooming dates and temperatures over the years. But a journal doesn't have to be a bound 10 year thing like mine, a notebook would work as well. Now is a great time to get one to be ready to start writing on January 1.

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The Journal + work