Creating a Perpetual Garden Journal

One of our ongoing regrets around the Root Simple compound is not having taken better notes on the garden in the 24 years we’ve been here. What year did we plant that toyon? How long do the avocados take to ripen? What’s the best date to pick the pomegranates? To some extent the blog functions as a diary and I can sometimes go back through entries to figure out, say, what month I picked the olives two years ago. But there are a lot of gaps.

Towards the goal of better note taking and inspired by the work of botanical illustrator Lara Call Gastinger, I started a perpetual garden journal. To make one, you get a blank journal with enough pages to devote one or two pages for each week of the year. When you want to record something you go to that week and do your drawing. You can, of course, add written notes. As the years roll by you keep adding to the same pages thus creating a week by week visual diary of  what’s going on in the plant and fungi world in your garden or in the world around you.

I know that drawing is intimidating to most people (myself included) and looking at talented folks on Instagram only makes this worse. But drawing is not really about the end product, it’s about the act of observation. You could make a perpetual garden journal with digital photos or just written entries and there would be nothing wrong with either approach. However, I’ve noticed that when I draw things I tend to observe details that I think I would have missed had I just taken a quick photo or written notes. For instance, when I drew the prickly pear cactus fruit on the page above I noticed that the spines (technically, glochids) on the fruit form a kind of spiral grid.

You can use any medium–pen, pencil, watercolor etc. For most of my drawings I use a pen, ink wash and watercolor. I use ink so that I don’t overthink things and just commit to the lines. I would recommend finding a journal with enough pages to devote a spread of two pages to each week. I have only one page per week and I think the results will be a little cramped.

Are my drawings great? Nope. But I’ve decided to embrace my slightly wonky draftsmanship and just roll with it. It’s the act of seeing, after all, that’s more important.

Lara Call Gastinger’s Instagram is a great introduction to the perpetual journal idea.

If drawing ain’t your thing here’s a way to use Google calendar to do the same thing.

Leave a comment

12 Comments

  1. Oh! I love this idea!! I too have been noticing that using my blog, even with a search box, isn’t ideal for “what garden things happened when”…and creating a visual record would be fun as well as useful

  2. Ah, this is great! I recently started a perpetual nature journal, in September in fact! It was also spurred by Lara and some nature journaling art podcasts I listen to. It’s been fun to start—can’t wait to see how it looks in a few years. Good on you to do one, too!

  3. Hi, Mr. Homegrown… I apologize if this comment is not related to your above topic article. I chanced upon your May 2008 post today about a Mystery Philippine Vegetable, the comment section is already closed. The veggie scientific name is talinum paniculatum, and yes we eat it as a salad. My grandma used to blanch it, dice some onions & tomatoes, then season with salt & vinegar.
    The last answer, Ashitaba has many benefits, true but to my knowledge it is used as herbal medicine, had an infused tea from the leaves for cough.
    Nice & helpful idea, the garden journal…

    • Moringa oleifera , also grows in LA basin. But not in SCV, or Antelope valley, or anywhere the potential to get freezing is. San Diego i’ve seen a lot of Malungay (Moringa oleifera) thrive.

    • Moringa grows like a weed here in the LA basin. I planted one in my neighbor’s yard that keeps getting chopped down. It always comes back even without supplemental water.

  4. When we bought our place we kept very detailed notes for a few years…and then…nothing. We quit and now just occasionally lament the lack of helpful info. I’m not sure we made any notes at all the last two years. I’ve always found the journal to be a little lacking–lots of flipping around looking for what I’m trying to find–and so I am quite intrigued by this “perpetual calendar” idea. That seems a much more useful style in the long term. Plus, a little artsy, too!

  5. “It’s the act of seeing that is important”. Yup. And I find you get better at seeing by drawing, better at drawing by seeing and so on. Your drawings are lovely.

  6. Yes, sir… Mr.Homegrown, moringa is a staple here in the Phils, readily available in any market stall, many a household in the suburbs has a tree or two. It’s a very versatile tree, the leaves can be added to almost any soup, even the flowers & young seed pods are edible. And true, they need to be trimmed once in a while since they can grow a good two stories high. Yup, it can proliferate rapidly too with each trimming, an inch thick branch will already thrive given some space & care.

    We too have a few saplings along with some veggies on our side lot, talinum included.

    • Thanks for the tips! We live in a part of Los Angeles with a large Filipino population and that’s how I first found out about this tree–from a neighbor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.