Gardeners, how do you organize?
March 20, 2022 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Spring is here (just about), and I've suddenly been hit with the energy and enthusiasm to start adding new plants to my property. I'd like to keep records for both tracking and planning purposes, but I'm spinning my wheels on exactly how to do it.

I have a smallish property (under a third of an acre, I think?), and I'm aiming to do things in little chunks, so I don't need to input a large quantity of information at once. I'm envisioning something that I'll build up over time as I go, but I'd like to try to figure out my system early in the process, so I'm not starting and restarting and leaving little bits and pieces everywhere.

Here are some kinds of information that I'd be looking to include:

- document what I already have
- record plantings and results
- plan for future additions (individual plants, beds, garden features, etc.)
- collect ideas and inspirations
- make notes of resources

How do you store information like this? Garden journals? Index cards? Spreadsheets? Apps? I'd like to be able to include pictures, and it would be great if there could be some sort of pleasing aesthetic to the whole thing, but ease of use (both for entering and finding things) is probably most important.
posted by velvet_n_purrs to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This is what works for me: Start a garden journal. You can use any kind of notebook. Organize it into four sections.

Section 1 is all illustrative. Call it the maps section. Your first map takes care of documenting what you have: Draw a map of your current garden. Label everything. Use colored pencils or markers to jazz it up. Put the date at the top of the map.

Move on to section 2: the notes section. This is where you record plantings and make notes. Date every entry. Include illustrations of the plants. Use highlighters for particularly important information.

Section 3 is for ideas and plans. Go nuts here. Illustrate everything.

Section 4: resources and inspiration. Feel free to scrapbook it up in this section.

Every time you change anything significant in your garden, draw a new map.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 10:58 AM on March 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

I've slowly come to the conclusion that tagging and organizing is overrated as long as you have good search capabilities and a vague idea of when you're looking for. So for me, it's one Google doc per year, just a notebook in chronological order, and as they accumulate stick them in a folder. Anytime I plant something or make a major change to a part of the garden, I note it down in text, and sometimes include a photo, too. Make maps and save them separately, but also drop each map update into the notebook document as an image. I find this the easiest way to just dump in photos of what's going on in the garden and what I've changed, and also go back and look at previous years either by looking for a prior year's month to see what I recorded or took pictures of, or by searching for relevant text (e.g., what were those bulbs I planted 5 years ago? search folder for "bulbs," done). Also super easy to link things like a spreadsheet of your entire seed inventory.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:23 AM on March 20, 2022

I used to use Garden Planner, but my enthusiasm (for gardening; not for the app) has waned so now I just scribble a few notes on where I put what in a small notebook.
posted by gakiko at 12:03 PM on March 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I always think I’m going to be all organized at first, but lose motivation to document using any form of writing. The one thing that is the lowest possible effort for me has been always having my phone on me and snapping photos of: sowing seeds, transplanting, fertilizing, sprouts as they emerge from the soil, blossoms, fruit setting and harvest. Then I go back through my photos from the previous year and note when I need to do stuff for this year. It’s the bare minimum and works pretty well for me.

One step up from this might be making a photo book for each year, where you can add in your own learnings and observations.
posted by oxisos at 12:41 PM on March 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I made a master map of my garden (whole back yard, actually) in Excel. Every seasonish I start a new tab from a fresh copy of the master map, or a copy of the previous one, and update it to indicate where things are now. I just take notes out on the columns to the side and below my map, and I also use the rows below to document my seed starting trays when I spin up each one.

I do also take photos periodically, and if I was especially dedicated I would put those in Excel but I often don't. This still all works pretty well even if I don't log my activity every single time; I do try to sit down once a week and make any critical notes.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:03 PM on March 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

For perennials and self-reseeders, I have a handwritten journal of (pretty much) phenology, iewhen things happen each year. When I take pictures I note that in the journal, but i don’t keep the pictures anywhere special. I add to-do-app reminders for seasonal advance planning - for example, the best time to order dahlia bulbs is WAY before dahlias are evident in a garden. Calendar date is mostly a proxy for chill and heat and insolation hours, but I only know those later anyway, and date as a universal index serves me well.

Seeds started to transplant get their own spreadsheets because their conditions are more under my control. Also it’s handy to have my seed list available when I’m in a garden store. If I want to analyze the data, I can export it.

This is all based largely on what I can use with muddy hands in rain or sweat without destroying it: a cellphone in a ziploc and a Rite in the Rain notebook.
posted by clew at 1:07 PM on March 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Two other approaches, one I’ve used and one I’ve seen, involving *no* notebooks:

I made a bunch of 5" pegs dipped in six bright colors and used them as "needs work in this season" markers, without writing down what needed to be done. Lifting bulbs, pruning clematis in their various seasons, whatever, if I was looking at a summer reminder in summer I could figure it out.

There’s a garden near me with big, 3"x4", tags and a lot of text on them, species/variety/planting date/"cut back every fall", maybe stuff on the back. I haven’t met the gardener working yet. I wonder if it’s a detailed version of my seasonal reminders, or a professional installation designed for handoff to less skilled workers or the homeowner.
posted by clew at 1:37 PM on March 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I use the app Gardenize. I've played around with a whole bunch and this one did what I needed it to do for the right price (free). There were a couple of things behind a paid upgrade wall that would have been nice (multiple photos eg), but nothing that was a deal killer. The interface is pretty intuuitive - once you get used to it, there was a small learning curve and some of the UI choices aren't what I would have made, but it's pretty good.
I use it to name beds and record what I planted when and where. I don't track any tasks or harvests, but I should.
The "inspiration" and social sections I don't use at all.
It seems to have just had a major interface update and a switch to a monthly subscription, which I won't do, so we'll see what happens there.
It seems to be a one-woman operation out of Sweden.
posted by conifer at 1:59 PM on March 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I use a notebook, previously paper copy, now on my iPad, where I draw out what my garden currently is, when seeds got planted,, which plants did well on what side of what and then at the end of the season I make notes of what failed horrifically or was too much trouble. Frankly I start out every year ambitious about recording things, but honestly I’m horrid at remembering to do it in summer in the swing of things, so start of season and end of season seem to be good enough for me.

I’m in awe of people that draw stuff out properly. I have a rectangle with labeled circles and boxes. Before iPad I literally had tiny post it’s on a page with plant names. I have learned to label seed pots with the date and what we planted, but it took me 5 years to start to do that….

For inspiration I used to rely on gardenista, but they are behind a paywall now
posted by larthegreat at 4:03 PM on March 20, 2022

When I started a garden, I wrote it all down in a small (unlined) notebook--a sketch of the layout and where I planted stuff, dates, notes...At one point I kept a spreadsheet and just listed what I grew and any notes.

After a few years, I didn't really find it helpful-- I knew I planted tomatoes on one side last year, so just moved them to the other side.

I often had mystery plants, started writing on stones and popsicle sticks.

Eventually, plants show you what they are, so these days I plant and wait....

Happy gardening!
posted by rhonzo at 4:06 PM on March 20, 2022

we wax and wane in terms of ambition, and that has worked well with just keeping a paper notebook. We typically have managed to map out what will go in the raised bed gardens, and also have a sketched map of the rest of the yard. But we haven’t always kept up well with that. Even when we don’t keep up with all of it, I like to do a little journaling after a day of gardening, writing about what I did even if it’s not all mapped precisely, or what I noticed sprouting or growing back from last year and when the last snowfall was and about how the rhubarb I planted last week has this week totally disappeared. Sometimes I paste in seed packets or the plant tags. The not too fancy maps and the journaling have been sufficient to track what I wanted and I really enjoy rereading the journal entries later… over ten years or so, it was interesting to see the variety in when my tulips (my favorite bulb flower) came up or bloomed and things like that. Or to look back and remember the year we got over excited about a warm may and planted before Memorial Day, only to lose all the marigolds to a late snow storm. We did not make that mistake twice..

Now we live in a different climate so we are starting a new “story of the yard”.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:33 PM on March 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

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