Cataloging My Plants: A New Project

I have decided to undertake a little project to catalog all the plants in my garden this summer.

I know! Such excitement and anticipation to see an entire catalog of all my plants here at May Dreams Gardens!

Or perhaps you are thinking, 'what a slackard Carol is that she hasn't been cataloging her plants all along'.


To start, I won’t be reaching for my laptop to develop a big spreadsheet and start entering in all the plant data. That will come later, probably in the winter when the garden is dormant and there is time to do the data entry. Or perhaps later I’ll put all the plant information on the web, patterned after the excellent plant profiles on the website of MSS at Zanthan Gardens.

Whatever I decide to do, none of that high tech stuff will be going on at first.

I want to develop a catalog with actual pages, and pictures, tags, and notes based on the plants as they are in my garden. I want to end up with something I can hold in my hands and take out into the garden with me.

I’ve been thinking about how to go about doing this and decided to use full sized sheets of paper, 8.5 x 11, one per plant, and put them in a loose leaf notebook, organized alphabetically by garden. Front garden, east side garden, west side garden, back garden by patio, perennial border, vegetable garden.

I’ll start with the plants I have tags for.

I have tags hanging on a bulletin board in my garage, pictured above, tags in drawers, tags in pots, tags in plastic bins. I’ll go hunting for all of them and round them up. I don’t think I have as many tags as I have old seed packets, but I have quite a few.

Then I’ll take a first pass through the tags to divide them into piles for:

- ‘Still growing in my garden’,
- ‘No longer growing in my garden’,
- ‘I don’t remember this one’.

Oh, and maybe I'll have a special pile for ‘I regret planting this in my garden’.

It will be sort of like what they do on those organizing shows, only I won’t put the plants in piles, just the tags.

Then I’m going to catalog the plants one at a time, tag by tag.

For those plants that don’t have tags, if I know what they are, I’ll take a picture of the plant in flower to print and include in the catalog. If I don’t know what a plant is, I’ll probably post about the mystery plant to see if others can tell me what it is. That has been very effective for me in the past to find out what a plant is when I have encountered a mystery plant or weed. There are some very smart "plant people" eager to help identify mystery plants posted on the web!


All this cataloging won’t replace the recording I do in my 10 year garden journal, which is mostly snippets of what I observe in my garden each day, plus what I do. To be precise, my 10 year garden journal is really more of a chronicle. A typical entry might be like the one for June 5th of this year:

“Mowed the grass front & back #16. Picked 113 strawberries.”

Did you catch that #16 next to “mowed…” ? Do you know what that is? Yes, it is a count of how many times I’ve mowed the grass this year. I just started doing that last year, keeping track of how many times I mow. I don’t know why I record that kind of trivial info, but because I do I can tell you that even though I started mowing the grass this year a full week later than I did last year, I am ahead of last year at this time by one mowing because of all the rain this spring.

Or an entry might be like today’s entry which will be:

“Rained 5.5 – 6 inches in morning, started on garden catalog”.

I know, it’s pretty mundane information, trivialities really, but it is information that I like to refer back to, so that’s all that counts.

My advice to you if you keep your own garden catalog, chronicle or journal, is to write what you want to remember, not what you think others might want to know and you’ll be happier with it in the long-run.

And then someday, someone might read what you wrote and find it interesting, even in its simplicity, just like we’ve found my grandmother’s diaries from the 1920’s interesting now, even though she wrote what might have seemed mundane to her at the time.


What have you recorded about your garden?

Do you have a catalog of all the plants in your garden?
Do you have a chronicle documenting the events of your garden?
Do you have a journal which contains some of everything… plant lists, records of various events, and your stories and thoughts about your garden?

Do you have advice for me as I start to catalog my garden?

What do you consider your garden blog to be, if you have one? I’ve read posts that indicate that for many gardeners, the garden blog has replaced the hand written garden journal. That’s nice in some respects because it makes a garden and gardener's thoughts more readily accessible to everyone in the world.

But it is sad, too, to see the handwritten journal going by the wayside because sometimes discovering an old journal provides a fascinating glimpse into the past.


  1. Oh, what a very good idea. I started keeping a garden journal because of you. I haven't been as faithful as I should, but I am happy to report that because I wrote it down, I know which of the four varieties of peas performed best--Wando!

    If the economy keeps up the way it's going, I may have a lot of time on my hands to do a similar catalog project.

    BTW, I am TRYING pluring. I am Bumblebee.

    Robin at Bumblebee

  2. Of course, I meant Plurking. Fingers get away from me sometimes...

    Robin at Bumblebee

  3. Hi Carol,

    I have a big thick scrapbook with planting plans for each of my beds and the tags alongside with arrows pointing to where they are in each bed. Other pages have my notes about how to care for them, size and spread etc., plus the actual size they've achieved in my garden - plants don't read the labels do they? Sadly some of these notes are annotated with date of death :(

    Any following projects that I do in the garden e.g bed remodelling get a new page, so I can also see how things have changed over the past 8 years.

    I also record how much I paid for each plant (if bought), and where it came from (whether bought, a cutting or sown myself)

  4. I confess I haven't kept a garden journal in a decade. When I first started gardening I did, but then I quit doing it. My blog is half garden journal, half rambling. Not everything that happens in the garden gets recorded.

  5. I 'fess up: I'm a geek and I like organization. But the idea of cataloging my garden makes me want to, um, not do it at all. Not that I don't think it's a good idea. Not that I don't admire people's garden journals. But it was a big achievement for me to start a) keeping my plant tags all in one place and b) writing the location where planted on said tag. That has been very helpful and is the extent of my record keeping. Gardening is as much beauty and meditation for my brain, and record keeping is... not!

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  7. I keep a journal of what I plant each year, the location I plant it in and then make notes on whether I think it is a keeper or not. I also make notes when I have to move something because maybe it isn't doing well in it's current location. I find it very helpful to me each year to use this journal as a reference.

  8. Carol I think you will be so pleased with your catalog. I have often thought about doing something like that. However I am not a very organized person. Well, I am sort of organized but I don't do good when it comes to doing something like organizing plant tags, keeping my birding list up to date, which drives my DB crazy. I think it would be a valuable tool, an heirloom even. My, what if some of those nieces or nephews of yours goes into horticulture. Or even if when they are older and have homes of their own and discover gardening wouldn't it be wonderful if one of them would like to peruse your catalog of flowers and veggies. I can't wait to see what you come up with.

    My blog has taken some of the time and effort that I would normally use to keep my written journal but it hasn't replaced it. I don't think I will ever get the same satisfaction typing in my observations and then going back to see what happened when as I do with book in hand. There is nothing that could replace that feeling of a book in my hand. I can take my laptop outside but it just isn't the same as sitting there on the bench looking over the garden and writing what I see and feel at that very moment. I am having a difficult time keeping my 10year diary up to date. I go in spurts at keeping it. I like the idea but it has been difficult for me to be as faithful to adding the notes I would like to keep in it.

    Good luck with your project.

  9. A personal garden catalogue sounds like a fun project for winter. Of course you have to do the photographing now & writing down where everything is & what is still there. Someday I might try it. For now, I've dispensed with tags. I write the name of the plant & where I got it in my (2d) 10-year journal when I plant it. I also highlight each plant name in yellow when it begins to bloom & highlight it in pink when it's done so I can find it at a glance in the journal. This works for me. There's no way the blog could ever replace the journal. I don't post often enough, but also the blog doesn't capture the flavor of the moment, as shown by my handwriting (or scrawling depending on what's going on). Then there are the entries that just don't translate well to print, such as this from June 2005: (music notes)"And the heat goes on..." Cher's voice is immediately in my head.

  10. I like the notebook with tags idea and hope it works well for you, Carol. I've been trying to tape tags and receipts in my current spiral garden journal, but started a plant spreadsheet in Excel several years ago. I was very efficient at entering the data at one time, but like everything else in my life, it's less well kept PostBlogging than it was PreBlogging.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. Thanks for the link love, Carol! Now you've got me all excited about cataloging too. There are so many profiles that are out of date. Or that are still in draft form. Or that need better photos. My entire system screams "Update me!"

    Now that the dead of summer is upon us I should have more time to sit down with all my scraps of paper, various notebooks, folders of seed packets, and get cataloging. Such projects are always more fun when other people are doing them too and we can compare notes and encourage each other. Into the fray!

  12. I catalogued all of mine alphabetically by latin names. I think doing it by the garden might be hard since many plants may grow in more than one garden. Maybe just do one page per plant and list all the gardens it grows in? The hard part is still keeping up with it but with your garden journal it seems you have most beat for sure!

  13. One idea: Make it convenient and enjoyable to do or it won't last. The last thing you want is another "chore".

    I like the idea of cataloging and keeping a garden journal. I have to say that nothing seems to beat a hand-written record though. Electronic may be convenient for blogs and probably long-term, but it is less personal and not nearly as mobile.

    That being said, my records are photo and online right now. I think I will make more of an effort to keep a written record and spend the down time (i.e., winter) do the "nice" organization of those notes.

  14. Hello Carol;

    Reading your thoughts on garden journals rang close to me yesterday when a lady showed up at our new nursery with a handful of hosta tags. Her way of buying new additions to her hosta collection is to take current tags and go shopping. As she buys a new plant she replaces the nursery label with a plant label, one in the ground (underground) at 3 o'clock and one above ground.

    It was interesting to see tags from so many companies and see how much misinformation some labels contain. One stuck out because I had never seen it before. It listed Whirlwind as 10"-12" tall and had a picture of something I sure couldn't identify. identify. Just the same, this method worked well for the woman.

    Years ago I kept meticulous records interspersed with events of the day. A garden diary of sorts with soem local overviews. I just looked back at what I had written in 91-92-92-94 and there were many comments about lilium having botrytis problems, what I sprayed with back then, putting up a sign to announce our first nursery, the birth of a friend's first son, thunderstorms and big rains, and a story about my wife Gail finding two hummingbirds inside the house caught in a skylight, and the ensuing rescue by pointing a broom their way onto which they climbed and held tight for the journey to the back door. all interesting writings.

    Journals from earlier times are readily available in bookstores but really the best reading is the diaries we keep about our own gardening pursuits.

    Best garden wishes.

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener
    Vermont Gardens
    Vermont Flower Farm

  15. I've been toying with the idea of doing one online here: but... I think I'd rather be outside. Not sure if I'll stick with it.

  16. Sounds like a plan. You could have a gardening scrapbook and someday pass it down to your FAVORITE neice Sophie.

    Remember in the dark ages where they first starting writing on paper and it decayed, so we have little record of that time period? Well, sometimes I think our computer age will be like that. Our computers crash, we forget to print out pictures, and in the end alot of personal information will be lost to our descendents.

  17. Thanks to you, Carol, I have been trying to keep a gardening journal this year, but I haven't been very good at keeping up with it. I mainly keep track of what I've planted and when. Also how much I've spent this year!
    Your cataloging project sounds like a great idea--you could be the "Mission Organization" gardener!
    Did you really count 113 strawberries as you picked them?:)

  18. Carol, I just read your post from Friday. Being the owner of outdoor and indoor cats, I can tell you that forking your garden really does work with the cats. I found the tip online last year and used plastic forks in large planters that the cats liked to dig in--it really works!
    I'll be interested to see if the spoons work as well and whether rabbits are deterred by them.

  19. Carol, I really liked your post today - I'm hoping it encourages me to do a little more than I'm doing now.

    Years ago, I used a software program called Gardener's Journal. While not perfect, it allowed me to capture all I wanted at the time. I'd just not found a suitable paper version and was too intimidated to make my own - it had to be pretty. We had computer problems and I couldn't make the program work on my new computer. I didn't want to buy a new version, so I abandoned it.

    I now have a spreadsheet with my plant information, but I'm planning to make a notebook - I need the tactile and visuals that paper provides. I think 8 1/2 x 11 will be best for me, and I'm probably going to design the pages on my computer and print them with a photo already there, then put in a notebook and add handwritten notes.

    Again, thanks for the wonderful post - you always get me thinking and planning, and that's a good thing.

  20. I have been lamenting my lack of organization and lost info, esp. with my irises. I tend to plant stuff and then, somehow, next year, I can't remember what that plant is named! I am just working on a sketch of each bed, with a list (and some locations ) of the plants in it.

  21. That's a big undertaking. It's also probably something I should do a better job with. I write things down every now and then but often I forget to and consequently I forget things I planted.

  22. This is one of the best post I've ever read. I don't have my plants documented and filed away nicely. I would like to. But the real reason I like this post is because--someone will read your efforts years or 100's of years from now...and love what you have written.

    It is seeing your garden beyond the now.

  23. Carol,
    I'm new to Gardening at this level and new to blogging about it, and I love your idea about the catalog. I immediately flashed on a beautiful handmade journal that I haven't used yet - it was a lovely gift - and I think it will be perfect for my new gardening journal/catalog. And yet another wonderful distraction from the work I'm supposed to be doing to earn a living to pay for that dear garden.
    Robin at Getting Grounded

  24. That sounds ambitious, Carol. I keep my spiral-notebook journal even as I put most information in my blog. I mainly use the paper for noting what I planted, where I got it, how much it cost, and how big it will get---info I don't always include when I blog about a new plant. Also, I'll sometimes tape plant labels in there.

  25. I think cataloging sounds like a great idea. It seems so organized I'm not sure I'll ever get that far. At this point, gardening seems like one of the last bastions where I can be disorganized and no one notices. Every year I think I'm going to remember which new tomatoes did best, etc. but that never seems to happen when the next year rolls around. I may have to wait until I retire and just take my chances until then.

  26. I am amazed at your energy level. You go, girl! I kept a journal at one time, but don't now. Probably should though.~~Dee

  27. I've wanted to do this for quite some time, but it's an overwhelming task! My mom said the master gardeners want to have my garden on their tour next summer, so I'll probably use that as a deadline for at least making a list of everything growing here.

    But this does look like a great winter project to do in detail. I like keeping records.

  28. I have been working on a garden database, so that I can import photos and sort the information on different categories such as height, bloom time, region of garden. I know it sounds very anal but it is fun. I seem to collect a lot of plants, forget what they are or what height they are or when they bloom and end up with a jumble. This year I am trying to become organized so that I can rearrange things better. But I really like the catalog idea with the tags. I think I will do that also. Thanks! Alison

  29. I keep a garden journal, but I find when I am busiest in the garden, it seldom gets written in! The most important thing I like to record is ideas for "next year." Plants I want to try... or move, areas that need more color. In the Spring I plan what kind of new bulbs to add in the Fall, etc.


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