Plant Catalog Update

You know you are a gardening geek when you proclaim you are going to undertake a project to catalog all of the plants in your garden, AND you actually start on it and have something to show for your efforts.

I have 13 pages to show for my efforts, so far. “Thank you, thank you, waiting for applause to quiet down.”

Let me tell you more about how it is going.

To get started, I gathered up all the plant tags I could find, in drawers, in flower pots, in little stacks on shelves, hanging on a bulletin board in the garage. I gathered them from everywhere. It’s amazing how many places there are to put plant tags.

Then I cleaned the tags off and brought them all inside where I sorted them into different baskets, just like on those organizing shows on TV. The categories are based on locations in the garden, plus there is a basket for “these plants are dead” and one for “I don’t remember these plants, where are they?”

After sorting all the tags, I left them to age in the baskets by the fireplace hearth. This step is strictly optional. If you are following along, you can skip it and go right to the next step.

The next step was to decide what I wanted to record about each plant and write up some catalog pages. I did this late one night, and decided I would include type of plant (perennial, tree, shrub, vine, etc.), botanical name, variety, common name, when I bought/acquired it, where I bought/got it, how much I paid for it, where it is in the garden, and ‘notes’.

Finally, I was ready to write up a few catalog entries. I did this for several newly acquire perennials, not those aging in the baskets, since I knew most of the information for the new perennials. On each page I diligently recorded the information in my own handwriting and taped the plant tag to the page. Then I put these ten starter pages in a binder.

By the way, like most people, I don’t like my own handwriting. But for some reason, I think this catalog needs to be handwritten. I want to be able to take it out into the garden and add notes to the notes section.

The next morning, I looked at my catalog pages and decided that I did not like them.

What I didn’t like was that the information was there, but in a different order and place on each page. It didn’t feel right to me. It felt sloppy, like information was missing. If you are going to keep a plant catalog, it needs to be done right!

So I made up a catalog page form in MS Word, printed off 10 of them and re-did the pages I had done the night before. Much better! Now the information is on the same place on every page.

Here’s a sample.

I’m not sure why I even wrote up a page for the Delphinium, as I hardly expect it to return next year. If it does, great, it's in the catalog! If it doesn’t, I’ll have to add a note to the catalog page for it and move it off to a section called “In Memoriam” or "I Tried" or something like that.

One other advantage of using the form is if I ever do decide to put the plant catalog into an MS Excel spreadsheet or simple database program, the information will be in the same order and place on each page, which will make that task much easier.

My goal is to do a few pages a week, while I’m watching TV, reading your blog, or just sitting around. Before I know it, I’ll have a nice May Dreams Gardens Catalog of Plants to remind me on cold winter days what is buried beneath the snow in my garden. I’ll also use it as a handy reference on the 15th of each month for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, in case I can’t remember the name or variety of something blooming in my garden.

Remembering plants that are blooming in the garden in January and February is not a problem, since there aren’t any, but May, June, July, even August can get pretty “florific” around here. The catalog will come in handy, no doubt.

If you are following along and are also planning to create your own plant catalog and would like a copy of my plant catalog form, drop me an email and I’ll send you the MS Word document as an attachment.

If you have suggestions on what else to include in my plant catalog, leave a comment, but don’t delay because ‘pages are being added daily’, at least weekly.

Or if you would just like to leave a comment to encourage me to keep going with this project and finish it this summer, go right ahead!


  1. Just to help myself to remember what I had & what I wanted I put each in a 3 ring binder after looking up on net each plant, printing out all info plus pic. I put printed sheets into plastic sleeves so I can view from either side any info if there were 2 pages. This way I can go back & add in notes if I wish. This works for me as my garden is small but growing a bit at a time. I'm slooow.

  2. You covered all the info I include on my plant records, and using them over the years, the what and the when-bought have been the most useful. When visitors come, i always grab the book so I can ID everything for them exactly.
    Glad I'm only moderately plant-nerdy by standards here at May Dreams.
    (Carol, sorry if this is posting for a second time. I don't see it, and there's nothing telling me it's waiting for moderation, so here goes.)

  3. You do realize that you will have a tally of $$$ spent and that may show that you are well above budget. I would not want a written record of $$$ spent which could someday be used against me!

    I applaud your efforts and have no doubt you will finish this project!

  4. I like the step about leaving the piles to steep by the fireplace.

    In the generalist/specialist question--this activity puts you right in the specialist's camp.

  5. Love love love the catalog so far! And your handwriting is great by the way.

  6. You're so organized, and it will be much handier for carrying outside, Carol!

    My list of garden plants used to be handwritten in a journal, but now it's on a spreadsheet because I can barely read my handwriting any more.
    Sometimes I put in the price, especially for bargain rescues that turned out to be winners. The cost of deceased native shrubs is best forgotten.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. I'm so lazy, I just take a photo when I buy it and try to blog about it. And I like your hand-writing!

  8. You are off to a great start, Carol. I also agree that handwritten is so much nicer...more personal.

  9. The most difficult part should be over. You've got the tags sorted and you've figured out a great system! I really do like what you came up with.

  10. Very good Carol. You will get so much use out of this catalog. I think doing it in your own handwriting is the best thing too.
    It will be like a diary/journal as well. You can look back and see what your mood was when doing this little project. I can always tell my mood by how I write. The organized page is terrific.

  11. I have been wanting to do this forever. Most of all because I always forget how big plants get and I need reminders that I have to move plants or divide them in spring. Your example might just be what I need to get started. Thanks!

  12. Wow! That's some undertaking. Sounds like a great organizational idea.

    I started a Excel spreadsheet in 1994 - to track spending, mostly. I've improved the information I add over the years.

    Although its not portable to the garden, I like that I can search using "control" F. When I search for "rose", I can get a list of all the roses in my garden. I also get primrose, rose campion, lenten rose, etc.

    Ah, well, it's not perfect. Maybe someday I'll make up a real catalog. It sounds like a dream come true.


  13. Congrats on your catalog! I too have been wanting to do this but have still not undertaken the big task.

  14. Your post on organizing records inspired a post of my own:

  15. Oh, and I meant to ask how are you organizing the pages? alphabetical by plant name? chronological by acquisition date? geographical by garden bed?

  16. Carol, your catalog is very impressive and a bit intimidating! I've only been gardening for about 4 years (still a babe in the woods!) and just this year I began a garden journal, wherein I list the date, weather, what I accomplished, what's blooming/sprouting/leafing etc., when I fed, watered, weeded, deadheaded...but it's nowhere near as streamlined as yours. Kudos!

  17. I have a suggestion for something to add: the average beginning & ending date of bloom. This would be useful when trying to determine whether two plants will bloom together or not & whether the plant is behaving normally in a given year. Have you considered tring to sell them somewhere?

  18. Carol,
    You are on to something! I like this notebook with a place for the plant tag and comments. I can easily see me transferring my bouquet of bloom tags to this kind of system....mmd, may be right, you could sell this. After looking all over the internet for easy to use programs...there are none....this one looks great.


  19. Do you hear the applause coming from central Illinois? You are so organized, Carol! Though I did appreciate the comment about aging the tags; this much I would do, too.
    I think you have a great idea; maybe you could find a publisher--it would make a great gardening journal gift.

  20. Gardening geeks ahoy!

    I'm doing the same but instead, I'm making a directory of plants (perennials and Annuals alike) so that I can have something to show my customers for consulting jobs on the side. I tote around my laptop with me to show them while I explain what to do with their gardens. It's usually the pictures I put up in my blog and I have tons and tons pictures but not tons of time to post them. :) Good luck with your catelog!


  21. All, thanks for the comments, suggestions and encouragements on my plant catalog. Much appreciated to know that I am on the right track!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  22. I thought I was organized by keeping a notebook like yours. Now, it turns out I'm geeky!

    I have a big fat spiral notebook with all the plant tags.
    For traded plants I find a picture and useful plant info to tape in by hacking up my catalogs. When it dies- I tape over it with a new plant! Now you know why my notebook is so fat!

    I have a typed list in Word of the plants in the garden. Just a list- no pics. Quite a space saver from the big notebook!
    I have had to pick common or latin name to alphabetize. Not sure how you've decided to do that.. I was curious!

    I have a separate list of bloom times listed first to last. I've been keeping track the last 2 years, so a separate list ( it varies so much) keeps things more tidy. I just wished I would have saved these in Word as retyping for new additions isn't efficient.

    Fortunately for all of us, I don't have a blog. You can see a labeled photo of each thing that bloomed as it bloomed in Albums for each month. With a few artsy pics thrown in to keep my smiling over the winter months.

    What a great project !

    Here is Sept so far...Well it won't accept my "tag". Look up member cheerpeople at photobucket and then select the Sequence of blooms for Sept.

    Karen, zone 5 IL


    I'm trying to list the link mentioned in the last emial.
    Karen zone 5 IL

  24. Great idea, Carol! Care to share an update for those who may find their way here from the GGW Design Workshop: How are your cataloging efforts going?


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