Dear Diary: Your gardening notes and observations will become your best friend

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The Independent Online

Real gardeners keep diaries. Some keep incredibly anal planting diagrams, redrawn every time the plot plan is updated; others have scruffy journals filled with seed packets, invoices and sometimes soil cascading out the sides. But the most important thing, which unites the scrupulously tidy with the hopelessly messy, is that they write it all down.

Some diary-keepers are exemplary in their habits: even when she was showing at Chelsea and working 18-hour days, Beth Chatto managed to find the time each day to scribble down notes on the day-to-day work of the nursery, the events of a lecture tour, or simply what had sold best at shows to help her organise the following year's propagating.

But while that level of dedication is admirable, Annie Guilfoyle, garden designer and director of the KLC School of Garden Design, insists that even small snatches of note-taking, seized here and there, are incredibly useful. "Seasonal assessment when everything is growing is really important, because then in winter you'll have your notes to start planning your moving, shifting and cutting back."

Being systematic is essential, she adds. "I go around each bed, and write down what needs doing, what works and what doesn't, because I won't think back and remember, 'I planted that clematis, and it's far too shady, it really needs to be moved.' You walk around when the garden is in full growth, and you think, 'I really should do that,' but by winter you've completely forgotten you ever thought it."

New Year's resolutions are often full of intention for diary-keeping, but still many don't often actually keep them. Yet these days you don't even have to have a physical diary. More and more gardeners are using software such as Google's Blogger to create online garden diaries, charting the progress of all kinds of horticultural activity, from Paperwhite narcissi popping up to Brussels sprouts harvested. Blogger has the double advantage of being both straightforward to use and free. And blogging allows gardeners to link up with other like-minded souls, especially when you use Blotanical, a social-networking site specifically for garden bloggers (now with more than 1,000 members).

Whether you do it digitally or in an old-fashioned diary, keeping records forces you to look really hard at your garden – to stand still and assess. As Guilfoyle says: "Even by picking up pencil and paper, you are committing to stopping and standing, and thinking about how something looks, not just whizzing past and it popping into your head and straight out again."

Go on record

The RHS Gardener's Five Year Record Book

The RHS's librarian Brent Elliott chose astonishing artworks from the society's collection to illustrate this satisfyingly substantial record book. Almost too posh to use.

£12.98, Frances Lincoln

The National Trust Plant & Garden Notebook

A pocket-sized notebook for those who like to keep a record of their garden-visiting, with plenty of inspiring lists of gardens to visit by type, too. For this month, there is a list of the best snowdrop gardens to see in your area.

£6.99, Frances Lincoln

If your tastes are more immediate, and you have some nice digital pics of your garden to illustrate a blog, head for blogger.com. It will help you design your blog in a matter of minutes. Or head over to blotanical.com, a register of all gardening blogs, for some inspiring ideas

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