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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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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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