down to earth – on keeping a journal

Most of you already know that I’ve been writing a gardening column called Down to Earth. It appears every couple of weeks or so -in print- in the East Bay/South Shore Life section of a few local newspaper-lets. When the editor has time/the inclination he – or perhaps his intern if such a creature exists – also posts them on line here (complete with headline-y titles.) Alas, some of my favorites haven’t made it to the internoodle. Might as well post them myself here.

From October 13, 2010:

Every fall I start wishing I had kept a real garden journal. By now the season always feels like it flew by and has started to blend in my memory with past years. I always wish I had written down the idea I had for the exactly perfect plant to fill the hole in my border. For the life of me, I can never remember what it was and now is the exactly perfect time to plant it. I also think it would be gratifying to look back on a log of all the work I’ve done from weeding to designing and planting, and interesting to make a note of my current favorite plant since that changes almost by the hour.

My best intentions to keep a journal predate my garden and there are probably a dozen half-blank books trampled by dust rhinos under my bed. In the last couple of years, I’ve tried using miniature notebooks that fit in my pocket for notes on the go. Most of them have gone straight through the wash. I have a sketchbook that I mean to keep open on my desk for those brilliant ideas that come to me while perusing the internet for brilliant ideas. It is usually across the room hidden under a pile of magazines. Every so often, I do remember to record purchases by taping plant labels onto its pages. I also carry a weekly engagement calendar – one of those precious little books with a pocket and elastic – and finally, in that, I’ve started to follow through.

On the 31st of December, 2009 I wrote that “27° feels warm.” Evidently, that same day I was “writing, resolving.” By New Year’s Day, I was “peevish” but I persevered, logging at least weather conditions almost daily through February. I can tell you that our epic 100-year flood fell on March 30th and four days later, I painted my shed. I heard the first cricket on May 20. My backyard border needed “more blue” by the middle of June. For five weeks starting at the end of June I noted that it was, “HOT! HOT. REALLY HOT. HOT. HOT.” Unfortunately, aside from the odd appointment or two, my entries trailed off then.

Ironically or perhaps perversely, I assigned myself the role of record keeper at work. I have made a routine of jotting a few things down – also in a weekly calendar – at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s all I can do to remember what we did that morning but I’m always glad I wracked my brain. The gardens manager and I consult past years’ calendars constantly to keep on track or to congratulate ourselves for being so far ahead.

October is one of those months – a lot like… pick any month in spring – in which our schedule gets really tight. If we couldn’t double check previous years’ bulb planting dates we might second guess having to take annuals out of the gardens (to make way for tulips) as soon as next week – usually, heartbreakingly, while they’re still blooming. We’ll have all of the tender plants moved into the greenhouse by the 15th because they’re always in by then – whether frost is forecast or not. Almost before we can finish putting the gardens to bed, we’re on to preparing for Christmas at Blithewold, at least according to past years’ calendars.

My schedule at home is much more lax. I might not take annuals out until a frost hits because I can leisurely plant tulips in those spaces right up until the ground freezes. Despite the fact that I’m less likely to regularly consult an old calendar, I know I’d still find it helpful to write down what I do when. Because, at the very least, to keep any kind of record, to write down thoughts and ideas, is a great way to keep in good touch with the garden.

2 thoughts on “down to earth – on keeping a journal”

  1. ” Because, at the very least, to keep any kind of record, to write down thoughts and ideas, is a great way to keep in good touch with the garden.”… Great suggestion, Kris. Your phrasing is perfect!

    Thanks Kathy! Now if only I could remember to take my own advice… -kris

  2. I like the idea of writing a few notes on the calendar. Surely even I could manage that. Very nicely done.

    Thanks, Layanee. You already keep a great record on your blog – much better than me… -kris

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