When I started my current garden in 2000, it was the first time I was a plant planner rather than a plant plonker. I'd been reading every gardening magazine and scrap of information I could find on plants for a year before we decided on the garden's design, so I was pretty sure of which ones I'd include. However, the garden was my largest so far and had so many levels and beds, so I wanted to make sure I had something of interest everywhere. I decided to draw a freehand sketch of each bed to show where I'd put my chosen plants. Several attempts were needed as I kept changing my mind on where each plant was to go. I also had hundreds of plant labels as I was planting up from scratch, so it seemed sensible to buy a scrapbook to house my sketches and put the appropriate plant labels alongside. Subsequent pages were used to add labels for new additions to my garden and more notes about how they were doing or further snippets about their care.
All was well for a couple of years and then work went crazy, so I wasn't too good at keeping my records up to date after that. Also two years in is a dangerous time for a garden - you don't like some of the planting because it doesn't go together that well, or you got the spacings wrong and they're all squashed together, or too far apart. And of course you've had the inevitable casualties along the way or need to divide plants so they remain healthy. So I made my changes to my garden - with my plant plonking tendencies reasserting themselves. I found I simply didn't have the time to update everything, especially as some of the drawings were severely out of date, so my solution was this:
Yes, the inevitable basket of labels. I didn't throw them away because they have useful information. You'd think I'd have thrown away the ones for the dead plants wouldn't you? Erm, no. This basket was a godsend for my Open Garden blog though. I'd decided to put some illustrated plant lists for each bed on there and had totally forgotten a lot of the cultivars. The basket held the answer for about 95% of them. Some plants were mislabelled by the supplier, but that's another story.
A large basket of labels isn't a good solution, so what's to be done? I believe the way forward is to use photographs. I've been having a play with Picasa and using the text facility to label my plants - as shown above. Any photo text facility could be adopted - for instance I've seen Flickr's tagging used well by other bloggers. This has several advantages: both general and close-up views of plant combinations can be documented; if a photograph has too many plants to label clearly with text, then a numbering system can be adopted; the garden can be photographed over time, so that succession planting changes can be seen e.g. where spring bulbs come and go. I've found these particularly difficult to show well on my garden plans. Photographs can be updated more easily than plans when plants are moved around or added etc. - it just takes the discipline to do so.
What about the plant care information though? I'm toying with the possibility of setting up another blog for my garden photographs. This will enable me to post a cultivar list alongside each photograph (especially needed if a numbering system is adopted) with links to the best information available on the internet for each plant. As for my day to day records of what gets done in my garden, they go into my lovely RHS diary - next year's is always a treasured Christmas gift.
I have the photographs - taken every month last year for Garden Bloggers Blooms Day, plus all the hundreds of photographs I didn't use for my Open Garden - it's now just a matter of putting the plan into effect. Ummmm.
That's it for my garden - in my next post on this subject (due next week) I'll tell you about the approach to garden labelling and records used by the National Trust.