Garden Notebook


Tulips adding extra interest but need adding to next year
Tulips adding extra interest but need adding to next year

I went to a garden school this week  to a talk by Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter.  I have heard Fergus talk before and found him to be very inspirational.  This talk was on succession planting and I came away with my head buzzing with ideas and a strong desire to visit Great Dixter soon and go on one of their study days.


I learnt lots of clever techniques to do with succession planting but one of the most important things I learnt or to be honest realised is the need to keep a gardening notebook.

I have gardening notebooks a plenty.  I take them with me when I visit gardens and write down plants I like or combinations that look good.  I take them to talks to record those snippets of wisdom.  I even use them when I am reading gardening magazines, books or blogs to record things that might be useful BUT I don’t use them to record things I need to do in my garden!  This was quite a startling realisation – how stupid am I.


Back slope in shade needs more layers of interest
Back slope in shade needs more layers of interest


More embarrassing is how this revelation came about.  I had listened to Fergus talking about building up layers in the garden to give succession of interest.  He talked about adding interest in spring with snowdrops, primroses, forget-me-nots and tulips.  As he said at Snowdrop or Primula time you look to see where there are gaps and lift and divide your existing Snowdrops and Primulas and pop them in.  He also talked about using tulips in the same way which made great sense.  However, I couldn’t see that you could do this in the same way as you wouldn’t want to plant the tulips until the following autumn so how do you remember where to put them!  Anyway, after lunch I was walking round the nursery and bumped into Fergus doing the same.  So as I am used to making a fool of myself I bravely stepped up and said “How do you remember where to put the tulips?”  Well, after reading as much as I have written by  and about Christopher Lloyd I should have known better.  The answer: “You take your notebook (dur!) and you write “From the Astrantia to the Geranium I need xxxx number of whatever tulip”, you put a big asterisk by it and then you look at this when you are ordering bulbs!   So there is the answer – Use your notebook Helen in your garden!

Suddenly, this makes complete sense.  I have been relying on this blog and looking back through pictures to try to decide what to do but if I supplement this with a few simple notes in a notebook as and when I realise things need doing I will be a better gardener.  It’s funny how the most obvious things aren’t that obvious – well not to me anyway!


21 Comments Add yours

  1. ronniejt28 says:

    Helen! It all sounds so simple when you know how. Its like the best inventions are the simplest and we think “Why didn’t I think of that!”. I am not got at remembering to make notes, let alone take a notebook with me when I go out. Your post has jolted me into realising that it is important. Am off to buy a notebook! Thank you

  2. outofmyshed says:

    Thanks Helen. Simple, but brilliant advice. I say this I as was just staring at a gaping hole in one of my beds and thinking that I must take a pic and write down how I can solve this for next year. I want to add tulips in some of this space and will write this in my diary in sept/oct , so I don’t forget to order these come autumn.
    Fergus Garrett is great isn’t he. I went on a Great Dixter study day last January (2010), on successional planting, and felt truly inspired by the day. So much so, that I’ve been down to volunteer at Great Dixter a few times since then. It’s a wonderful experience working with the gardeners there as they are so generous about sharing their knowledge and I’ve learnt a huge amount from my visits. They’re also just very nice people too. Hope you get to go on a study day. Naomi

  3. Christina says:

    You are so right Helen, it is so , so easy to imagine that we will remember, when in fact we (or certainly I) never do. I have already walked around with a note book to decide where I can plant tulips in autumn – will I remember to look when I do the bulb order, I do hope so. I try to take photos of where I lack plants as well as actually photographing the plants I have. The blog has helped me concentrate – especially the end of month review – and that’s thanks to you. Christina

  4. This does make such a difference!!

    I suggest using a date book as opposed to a plain lined notebook, since we are gardeners are driven by the seasons, dates & weather. It really has helped me to organize the season & easily see when I have things blooming, when I have gaps, and I can jump ahead to the month of Sept (when I order bulbs) and start making a list right in that month that I can look at later, or edit as necessary.

    I just posted about my garden journal & how I use it here:

    Hope you find it helpful!

  5. outofmyshed says:

    ps.Helen, have written about the Great Dixter study day I went on at
    and also my latest Great Dixter volunteering visit at Naomi

  6. Cinabar says:

    Started gardening a couple of years ago, but this is the first year where we have thought about a notebook and plan – doe that mean we have only just started doing it ‘properly’? 😉

  7. just stumbled upon this blog, makes wish I didn’t live in an apartment

  8. I use digital photos a lot as notes and find that by storing as months I can then review the year and make decisions. As I look at them the thought I Had comes back to me. Do keep notebook, but always losing it. Can’t lose computer!

  9. Damo says:

    Simple once you know. I struggle to label things properly so a notebook is probably a waste on me!

  10. Sue A says:

    I have found using a notebook useful, but not nearly as useful as it should be due to a very undisciplined approach and a profusion of notebooks, some dated some not. I look forward to hearing how you get on, and any advice. I like the idea of transferring things to do to the relevant date as suggested by Julie – feel another notebook coming on!

  11. Ah yes, the garden notebook. Thought provoking post! I do try, but I have a terrible tendency to forget to check it at the crucial times. I find more and more I rely on photographs – the ugly ones that rarely make it to the blog, but show the gaps, the mistakes, the unhappy combinations as well as things I love and want to repeat. I was running up and down stairs yesterday, in fact, as I arranged and then re-arranged the pots of young plants I want to add to the pond border, checking photographs. Made me realise I need to take more and better notes and more and better photographs too. And you never know, I might find my plant directory useful to, assuming I ever find time to update it… Thanks for the reminder about how important these apparently simple things are. I’m now wondering if perhaps I need a notebook I can organise into sections, for different areas. Scribbled notes like “need more hellebores by acer” get lost amongst long lists of plants and their habit that I use for planting “plans”.

  12. Sara Venn says:

    Thanks Helen-I always have a notebook out and about with me but why, oh why I’ve never employed one in the garden I can’t even imagine now the ideas in my head! And I,like you, have read Christopher Lloyd but have never, until now, taken on board the way he uses a notebook to to record things. As you say, “dur Sara”.
    I love Fergus and he is awe inspiring! I’ve met him a couple of times at Dixter and he is just a true plantsman. You really should try to get to Dixter-I know its a way from you but its totally amazing. Try to go when the Exotic Garden is in full flower-incredible! We went to the Plant Fair there last year and it was a brilliant day out, with lots of fab nurseries from the Kent area and the Dixter nursery too!!!!! xxxxxx

  13. Tim Aldiss says:

    Great blog Helen. I love keeping notes too. Although I am also very good at sketching what I want to plant and where, it’s one dimensional in the fact that there is no seasonality or timeline to it, so don’t worry about feeling silly – you’re not alone! Tim

  14. kate says:

    Good post again, and one which has prompted me to action. I used to keep a thorough gardening notebook, but it’s really dropped out of use since I moved (hmm- nine years ago…) and only been used for the veg. I must get it cracking again, for everything – it would really help.

  15. Great post Helen, certainly got me thinking.

    I was gardening at the weekend, and it suddenly occurred to me that it would be useful to make notes of what parts of the garden get sun at what times. I made a few mental notes, but of course, I’ve forgotten them now.

    If only I had a notebook to hand…

  16. Jean says:

    Helen, I’m finally getting caught up with about two weeks of your blog posts, and this one resonated for me. When I’m looking at the garden and seeing what needs to be done, I always think I’m going to remember it. It took me years to admit that I almost never do! Finally, I added a page to my garden notebook (which is a computer spreadsheet) for just this kind of information. I have a separate space for notes on each area of the garden, and it’s where I put things like “move hosta lunar orbit from blue and yellow border to deck border, in place of regal splendor, which should be moved to the blue and yellow border.” It’s so nice to get out my notes and find these clear instructions for ideas I had all but forgotten! -Jean

    1. patientgardener says:

      Thanks Jean that is helpful – finding a way of making notes that actually works is harder than remembering to make the notes in the first place I think!

  17. Janet says:

    I think for me it’s taking the time to go round the garden with a notebook and/or a camera to make notes and then remember where I put it and so on. I do however carry a notebook in my bag. Very useful for jotting down ideas, tradesmaens names of vans, plant names in nurseries. I’m just not that organised in the garden. And we haven’t even mentioned plant labels….

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s