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A garden journal: Priceless gift to your future self

Garden journals from 1996-2000, left, and 2001-08, right, with a lot of blank pages in it still. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Record garden work and weather for reference

When I finally got back to my community garden plot this week, it might as well have been a lunar landscape.  It didn't look familiar at all, even though I've been working this 20-by-22-foot piece of ground every year since 2005.

OK, I did recognize the compost bins, and the bee-filled lavender in the corner, but the rest of it seemed strange. Did I really cut down the Iceberg rose that much? Why is so much of the middle part of the plot uncovered (and full of weeds)?

And what's that well-rooted mass of leaves? I was ready to get a shovel out of the tool shed and dig it up. But while pulling some of the worst of the weeds, I finally recalled: Oh, gee, that's the gorgeous perennial that I got so many compliments on last year. Eeek! To think I almost pulled it out. Now if only I could remember the name ...

This temporary garden amnesia likely was caused by the intensity of the winter holiday period, exacerbated by the overwhelming effect of the coronavirus news cycle and shelter-in-place order. But I realized that the "cure" for this would have been a better record of the garden last year. A quick look over entries would have told me what I'd planted, how much time I had to cover the plot -- obviously not much -- and when exactly I pruned the Iceberg.

My younger gardening self would be scolding me now, because I used to keep good records. I have journals started in 1996, when we moved to the Sacramento area, and another in 2001, the first year in our current house. The latter one tails off in 2008 -- a very busy year for my family. In more recent years, I've kept track of weather and planting dates on my UCCE Master Gardener Gardening Guide and Calendar, a great resource, but there's no room for entries like this one from May 2002:

"Weird month for weather -- chilly overnight the first part of the month, then nice and getting up to 92 degrees on May 16. Rain came May 19, turning into a ferocious hailstorm May 20 -- shredded a lot of leaves and filled container plants with ice. (See photo.)"

Photographic evidence that we can get hail in May. From 2002.
And yes, there's a photo tucked into the book. See at right. What looks like rock salt is hail. In mid-May. Take that as a warning, folks.

So I'm going to try to go back to writing, on paper, what's happening in my garden. An online journal would be OK, too, but I do like looking back at the entries, in my own handwriting, and the little note and clippings I tucked in -- even recipes. And the notes on the roses I planted will help me relabel my current collection, which is anonymous since the hot weather blighted my on-site labels.

The photos are great, too. The oldest of those I saved shows my first garden, at our house in Fullerton, with our first cat, Max, sitting right in the middle. Both Max and the plants are very young.  And so was I then, making all the mistakes of new gardeners.

Keep a garden journal. You'll be glad you did.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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