Ask any gardener what’s on their list of must-have tools and chances are they’d say a trowel, fork and secateurs. Good gloves and stout boots also often get a mention but there’s something else I’d add to the gardening essentials – a notebook.
Keep a journal or notes on your garden. It’s one of the best ways to plan ahead and remember exactly what you’ve done.
Combine it with a camera and you can keep track of all those gardening jobs and flashes of inspiration. This helps you improve your plot every season and keep a detailed history of its development.
Planning your garden
Take the time to stand back and really look at your borders to see what works and what doesn’t. All too often, we rush through our gardens, noticing the jobs but not the overall effect.
Make a point of walking around each season and noting plants that should be moved, or where there are gaps.
This is particularly helpful when the time comes to plant bulbs in the autumn. With beds still full of summer perennials, it’s near impossible to remember where there will be gaps in spring. Having a note or photograph makes this job easy.
Sometimes, winning plant combinations happen by chance, and are worth repeating elsewhere in the garden. A note in the journal ensures you’ll remember. Likewise, an unexpected clash of colour or shape may need to be dealt with later in the year when the mistake is not so obvious.
And what about all those jobs you notice and then promptly forget? A ‘to do’ list in the back of your journal is the best way to keep track of gardening tasks.
Record ideas and inspiration
Of course, jotting down ideas is one of the main reasons to visit other gardens. National Trust properties or private gardens that open for charity, such as those in the National Garden Scheme, are all full of ideas to copy.
Make sure you have a notebook to get plant names, eye-catching plant partnerships or clever ways to deal with difficult areas such as shade.
Know what you’re growing
Gardens fall into two types. Some are covered in plant labels like a rash of tiny headstones. In others, the owners have long forgotten the name of every rose or exactly which variety of shrub they’re growing.
The most organised have lists – and sometimes plans – that detail what’s in each border, making identification easy.
Keep a record of what you plant and where and you’ll never again look quizzically at one of your plants, wondering exactly what it is.
Take notes in the allotment and vegetable patch
In the vegetable garden, keeping a good record is even more important. Make a habit of noting down what you’ve sown and when. For a really thorough approach, add in when seeds germinated to help with future planning.
When you try something new, make a note of whether it was successful. The taste of summer tomatoes has long faded by the time you’re buying seed and it’s difficult to remember exactly which variety is the tastiest or most prolific.
You need to know your garden thoroughly to make the most of it, and that includes how the weather affects it. Make a note of when you get the first frost and which area is the worst hit, and test out different sowing times, keeping records so you can compare. Build up a picture over time of exactly what works well for you.
So, the next time you go out into your garden, make sure you stop and take note.