Creating a record of the plants in your garden yields several benefits. A “garden record” includes two essential components: the name, photo and basic cultivation notes for each plant, and an indication of each plant’s location in the garden.
A more elaborate plant record could include extensive plant info that reflects the gardener’s interests. Examples include purchase details (when, where, cost); native region; and landscaping ideas. The record could be extended further with notes on the plant’s development over time, including bloom times, pruning, propagation, fertilization, etc.
Such details, while relevant, are the territory of professional growers and very zealous gardeners.
The minimalist approach to a garden record involves simply inserting a plant tag in the soil next to the plant. A respectable tag from the nursery provides the plant’s botanical and common names, plus a phrase about its mature size and growth needs. Placing the tag in the soil marks its spot in the garden. This method, although popular, has notable shortcomings: sparse information, ephemeral mark of location, and plastic intrusion into the natural setting.
Plant tags are best used for temporary reference, during the preparation of a better garden record.
After considering those extreme forms, let us return to the fundamental model of the plant record.
Compiling information on an individual plant can be accomplished most easily and quickly with an Internet search, using the plant’s botanical name, or, if necessary, its common name. This information should be available on the plant tag.
The first search should be the website of the nursery that grew the plant. The nursery’s name could be read from the plant tag, or provided by garden center that sold the plant.
Other good sources include San Marcos Growers in Santa Barbara. SMG grows many plants and supplies them to garden centers. Their website (includes a fine database of plants that they grow —or used to grow— with photos and detailed descriptions, cultivation suggestions, and notes on the plant’s discovery or hybridization.
More good online resources include Wikipedia for plant information and Wikimedia Commons for plant photographs.
Other websites with useful plant information could be discovered through a botanical name search.
After locating basic plant information, good practice involves developing a database of plants in your own garden. This could be accomplished on paper or in digital form, i.e., as a computer file. Organize the plant under discrete planting beds or areas of the garden.
The second component of the garden record is a map showing the location of each plant in the database. Plant locations could be documented with notes within the plant description, but a graphical map would be a more useful reference for monitoring plant growth and developing the landscape development.
The garden map need not serve as an artistic triumph or an exercise in precise engineering, but it should amount to a scale drawing of the garden area. For a garden on a standard lot with a typical complement of plants, a map of the entire garden could be sufficient. For larger gardens, or those with many plants, a series of maps representing areas of the garden would support notations indicating plant locations.
On the map, represent each plant with its name, or a numeral linked to the plant record, or a numeral linked to symbol. The symbol could be a circle of appropriate size, or, for the artistically inclined, a simple drawing that suggests the size and form of the plant.
Again, primary purpose of the garden map is to document plant locations, rather than to create a work of art.
The map must be editable, so that it could be updated to reflect additions, deletions, and relocations of plants. Working in pencil could be most appropriate.
A garden map also could be created and maintained as a digital file. This method involves the use of computer graphic software, either a general purpose or garden-mapping application. This column cannot include an overview of garden mapping software, but, generally, the garden-mapping software that is currently available is intended for edible gardens in which plants grow in rows. Such software could be helpful for planning and describing traditional vegetable gardens, but is not suitable for ornamental gardens, or for edible gardens that are designed for aesthetic effect, including those that creatively combine edibles and ornamentals.
Graphic design software with the functionality needed to represent irregularly shaped planting beds is certainly available, but tends to require significant expense and skill.
Avid gardeners can develop plant information and garden maps to create garden records of substantial value in developing and maintaining the garden. Good practice suggests adopting readily accomplished formats, rather than aspiring to high standards that are unlikely to be achieved or maintained. The first priority should be to create the garden record as a practical tool for planning, developing and maintaining your garden.
The rainy season is a good time to pursue your garden record project!