Organize Yourself: Build a Garden Planning Notebook


"The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied.  They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before." -- Vita Sackville West

In order to progress, we need to know what needs to be done when, and to learn from the past.  We also need inspiration to feed the soul, and a personalized source for our own garden conditions.  That is the purpose of this notebook.  

Because of the ease of finding paper of the same size and of adding more pages, I use a loose-leaf binder and thick pages with tabs attached to them - these come packaged at office supply stores.  I have found the following breakdown useful:

Section 1:  Overall garden plan and graphs of individual areas – these can be photocopied or scanned for planning purposes.  Put these master pages in sheet protectors – use the ones that do not stick out beyond everything else – looks a lot neater.

Section 2:  Inspiration.  Plans for future implementation, goals being worked toward, ideas for things to do, pictures of gardens visited, and photocopied pictures of ideas in books and magazines.  Paste pictures and descriptions from catalogs of plants, supplies, ornaments and ideas you would like to use or buy in the future. Quotes for inspiration or garden decoration.

Section 3:  Gardening calendar.  I print a page showing what needs to be done in my area that month (I keep a file in Microsoft Word for this) and punch the holes so this sheet will be on the left side when the notebook is open. Then I print one-page monthly calendars from Microsoft Outlook and punch the holes so that will be on the right.  This right-hand page will be used for planning exactly what I will do when.  (If you want to get fancy, you can print the to do list for the following month on the back of the calendar page, but this does not leave room for adding extra pages for that month if needed.  I print a 1/4" graph on the back of each calendar page instead – see note below.  If the to do list for the month is longer than a page, just print it all in as few pages as possible, and punch holes and put them in the notebook the usual way before the calendar page.)  Check off tasks completed.  If you do not have a calendar program, try using this Word document to print a monthly page. You can write the month, year, and dates on it yourself.  It helps also to have a yearly page at the beginning of this section that charts the months, just so you can see how the days of the week fall each month.  I also keep observations on weather patterns with the monthly information.

Note: If I am out of graph paper, I print my own by using a Microsoft Word document with a 1/4" graph in light teal printed on the front and back of a blank sheet of paper.  This is light enough so you can see the lines, but they will not interfere with readability when you draw and write across boxes.  The lines may not show up on a photocopy.  Click here for a 1/8" graph if you need one for larger areas.  The measurement is not quite exact, but it's good enough for the purpose.

Section 4:  Ornamentals planning.  Lined pages for writing what was actually done by date, charts of what was planted in seed flats or small pots and what was transplanted into pots, what was bought and from where.  Use graph paper to chart what was planted in the garden and where. Chart of colorful plants (flowers, fruit or foliage), broken down by season - just put a check in the correct seasonal box.  Chart not only the plants in your garden, but those around town as well.  

Section 5: Edibles planning.  Lined pages for writing what was actually done by date, charts of what was planted in seed flats or small pots and what was transplanted into pots, what was bought and from where.  Use graph paper to chart what was planted in garden and where.  Chart of planting dates, projected germination dates, and projected harvest dates.  Click here for a helpful article on this by Susan Glease in Mother Earth News magazine.  Click here for a Crop Chart based on that article in Microsoft Excel format.  Note that the header contains the year or season.  Since our season starts in fall, I noted this season as 2004-2005 on my chart.  A printout of the South Florida Vegetable Planting Guide is also in this section.

Section 6: Projects.  Each project undertaken gets its own page(s) with the plan (overall, then what to do when), what was done, what was bought, and the expenses incurred.

Section 7: Individual plants, broken down into areas of the garden or types of plant (whatever is more useful to you).  Use one page (or more) for each type of plant.  Paste or print pictures and a description from the catalog (or your own pictures and descriptions if bought or already in the garden) for each plant.  Don't forget pictures of the seedling stage if applicable.  List care instructions, when each was planted and where, and what worked and didn’t work.  If planting from seed, list the time expected from seed to germination, then harvest, and how long it actually took.  Note the expected and actual yield for vegetables.  List good companions for that plant, either for the health of one or both plants, or for good looks.  Glean information and ideas of what to do with this type of plant in the future (see Grow note below).

Section 8: Weeds and insect pests.  One page for each type, with pictures, including seedling (or larval) stage and mature stage.  Note how it grows (or develops), the conditions under which it thrives, the time of year it appears, and strategies for prevention.

Section 9:  Season extension, fertilizing, watering, composting and other general care instructions for the entire garden.  I also put my detailed garden diary here, along with an overview chart for the year where I sum up what was done on each date in a few words.  This makes it much easier to find when a specific thing happened or was done, rather than having to look through the details in the diary.  The chart has seven columns, for the days of the week, and fifty-three rows, for the weeks of the year.  I label the first day of each month (I start with August) and the number of each daye thereafter.  That way, the chart can be started in any month and used for any year.  Ideas that come up when writing in the diary can be transferred right to the approptraite month in the calendar section, or to the inspiration section.  That way, they don't get lost.  I have come up with a way to print myself nice pages for the garden diary.  I made a Microsoft Word document with a table of two columns and one row.  The left column is set to 1.5" width.  In the right column, I made another table and used it to make lines for writing on.  Green or brown lines look nicer than black.  In Adobe Photoshop Lite, I made copies of several nice flower pictures snagged from the Internet.  Some are relatively small and square or are vertical rectangles.  These are good for the left column.  In the program, I made all of these 1.25" wide (the pictures are adjusted proportionately).  Then I inserted these small pictures into the left column until the page was filled and went on to the next page.  I used the Header function in Word to add the year and page number - each page is a different document because I flipped the columns on the even-numbered pages so the pictures would be on the right side.  This way, you don't see the pictures through the page when you are writing and the picture on the backside doesn't interfere with visibility of the writing you do.  The pictures are left or right justified to ensure a margin before the lines begin.  Some pictures are larger and more complicated and are horizontal rectangles.  These I made 2.5" tall and used at the top of a page formatted differently - the picture is inserted at the top, and the lines are below.  

Section 10: Sources for seeds and supplies, broken down into useful categories if needed.

Grow sections 2 and 7-10 by taking notes from books, magazines and the Internet.  

After referring to older journal pages and charts showing what was done in past years, these can eventually be moved to another binder.  Sections 7 and 9 may also end up growing large enough to start filling other binders, but having most everything in one place is very convenient, so try to avoid excessive note-taking - try to have a one to three page section on each type of plant, and perhaps a little more for each cultural technique, then use additional binders to house extra information you can refer to for specifics.  Remember, this main binder is for the purpose of organizing your planning and your efforts in the garden.  This will help you stay focused, and reading through your personalized notebook should help you learn from what has come before.

I also noticed that when I just kept a garden journal, my thoughts on what to do next time sometimes got lost.  You may want to keep a general journal that would hold the story of your garden and artwork and quotes and thoughts, and put things like what to do next year or next season in your garden planner so they are not forgotten.

Home  ** What's New? ** How It All Started * Garden Update October 2004 * Garden Diary 2008 * Garden Diary 2009 * Garden Diary 2010 * Garden Diary 2011 ** New! Garden Diary 2012 ** Rose and Perennial Court * Rose Update Feb 2003 * Front Garden Update 2008-9 * Behind the Wall * Herb Circle * Tropical Edibles Area ** New! Growing Dinner: Visit to a Homegarden ** Potager  * Potager 2004-5 * Potager Plan 2008-9 * Edibles 2008-9 * Crop Chart 2008-9 * Edibles Planting Schedule * Warm Season Planting 2005 * Succulent Beds * Wild Edibles * Caterpillars to Butterflies * Building Healthy Soil * Ecological Gardening * Index of Plants and Techniques Featured * Annual Vegetable Chart * Long Lasting Markers: Jewelry for Your Plants * Build a Gardening Notebook