Volumes of gardening books line the shelves of my home in Sherman Oaks. They all decree that keeping a journal is a must for every gardener. My journal is not the secret kind; it’s actually posted for review by the 600 friends I have on Facebook.
Gardening failures and triumphs are posted on a regular basis, and some advice comes my way after a frustrating try with some flowers and vegetables. Friends and I commiserate on the latest attack of aphids, earwigs and tomato blight. We also celebrate the surprises that spring up in our gardens, planted by visiting birds.
My recent victory of planting a vegetable garden in the front yard, and finding out it was legal, has been a dream come true. I have heard about victory gardens growing up, and always dreamed of having one—sans the war.
My gardening began two years ago with some simple flowers and herbs I was given or bought at a local nursery. I decided to turn over a new leaf by watering the garden daily, dead-heading flowers and banishing my black thumb. I was prepared to use voodoo if necessary.
When questioning plant choices, take a drive in neighborhoods you like. Make sure to take your garden journal and write the address of a favorite garden, or take pictures. You can check back the next season and see what has changed, or if the owners have planted something new. You can take the pictures to your local nursery, and ask if they have the plants you like in stock, or where best to order them from. The best part is, if your neighbors' plants look healthy, you will know they are in the correct growing zone. One tip: Write down whether the plants are in full shade, partial shade or full sun.
For years, I have been trying to decide what to do with the palm tree planted smack in the middle of my spacious backyard. It makes playing volleyball and soccer pretty difficult, but does provide a nice tall support for decorative lights.
Taking note of the plants in my Sherman Oaks neighborhood during my morning runs, I made a decision: I tore out the grass surrounding my palm tree, and created a round garden featuring petunias, dusty miller and lambs ear. All have been doing very well so far; that is, until I neglected the backyard for my front and side yard gardens.
In my journal, I noted that petunias were easy to grow and did well in the full sun. Then the slugs moved in. A nice, healthy portion of beer in a deep container has saved the petunias, and the nasturtiums too. (The snails, drawn to the beer, fall into the container.)
Tomatoes do really well, but do need to be on a trellis or a fence to climb, to avoid the pest problem I am now dealing with. Many of my tomatoes dropped to the ground last year, spreading the seeds around, resulting in the sprouting of volunteer plants. With regular watering, the result could be the attack of the killer tomato plants, as they threaten to take over.
I can further attest that Noah really did have the right idea when he took only two of each animal. I shall make sure that only two seeds of the following will be planted at one time—zucchini, watermelon, pumpkin and cantaloupe—lest my garden be overcrowded.
Next year, I will make sure to note that frequent watering is necessary for better tasting oranges and more flowers on my jasmine and Indian sun blanket. I will therefore replace succulents with water-loving plants around the birth bath.
I can only promise that I will do my best to keep a garden journal, to take notes on the pest problems I have encountered, and how they were resolved or not, and jot down tips and techniques that I have learned from conversations with friends.
Next year, I will plant vegetables that are susceptible to pests (carrots, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli) with herbs that naturally deter the little varmints.
For my blueberries, which produced BB-sized berries this year, I will give weekly feedings of coffee grounds, and use pine-needle mulch to produce the acidic soil they crave. I will keep my fingers crossed that I will be blessed with blue fingers and lips as I harvest next year.
I have been given journals as gifts, which are now sitting empty in the garage. Time to clean out the garage so I can find at least one. I can assure you that favorite varieties of tomatoes, vegetables and flowers will be written in one of those journals for next year.
A journal is a time saver as well. For instance, you can jot down the nurseries that have knowledgeable staff, and the websites that sold you the seeds of a perennial favorite. I plan to include such gardening tips as soaking beans, peas and other legumes overnight in water to help with the germination process.
If my grandmother had told me the importance of keeping a journal, I could assure you I would have. For now, I will have to rely on this article, and wade through countless Facebook messages to reconstruct the journal I should have kept.
I’m wondering if any of you have kept garden journals, and how it has helped you. Or if you intentionally chose not to keep a journal, what prompted that decision. I’m looking forward to your comments.