by Marybeth Kampman
UC Marin Master GardenerThis spring my garden received a major overhaul. I decided that it would be the perfect time to start a garden journal. Since I am a very visual person I decided on a photo based garden journal.I scoured the web for simple garden journal programs and found many entries. But none of them were exactly what I wanted. I was not interested in creating simulated garden layouts, logging in reminders of garden tasks or keeping track of schedules for planting, weeding and wateringMy idea of the perfect garden journal was a bit idiosyncratic. What I wanted was a simple record of what was planted, it’s location and room for a few pertinent comments.The first step was to take the photos. I went out into my garden with my tripod and SLR digital camera. I spent a couple of enjoyable hours taking pictures. In reviewing the photos I quickly realized that I had taken some very nice photos, but many of them were not appropriate for my journal project.In order to be useful I needed photos that identified the plants clearly. What I needed was technical shots of my plants, not beauty shots. I wanted attractive photos that clearly identified the subject, showing the flower, bud, and leaf structure. I also realized that a simple straightforward style was most appropriate. Catching unusual lighting situations, combining interesting colors and shapes of flowers could wait for another time.I put away my more expensive camera and put my small point and shoot digital camera by the front door. A major advantage of taking photos of your own garden is that it can be a hit-or-miss type of photo shoot. There is no need to travel to the site, or set aside an inordinate amount of time. If the light was right, the flower was blooming and I had a minute, out in the garden I would go, armed with my camera for a few good shots.The second step was downloading the pictures onto my computer. Since I am a Mac user, I downloaded my photos directly into iPhoto. Although I do not have experience with them, I know that there are similar photo album programs available for PC users.I created albums based on different areas of my garden and put appropriate photos in each album. Each time I downloaded photos I put them in the appropriate album. I renamed each picture with the plant’s botanical or common name.I experimented with printing the albums. I found that it was possible to print the album page as a contact sheet. The image name was printed under each photo, thus each plant was identified appropriately. If I did not space the photos too closely, there was room to add comments by hand directly on the contact sheet. The contact sheets could be stored in a binder along with other information about the garden.iPhoto also gives you the option to easily create web pages by directly downloading your photo albums into iWeb. I experimented with this option and found it to be the most useful. I chose a simple photo page template, which provided ample room for comments. The web pages can be stored locally on your hard drive or uploaded onto the web allowing you to share your garden with others. You can also print the individual web pages and store them in a binder.As I worked I realized that I could not always easily identify the plants growing in my garden. Some I had inherited, some were volunteers that snuck in from neighboring gardens or were courtesy of birds or seeds found in my organic compost. I found it is helpful to always save the identification sticks that come with the plant. I leave them next to the plant until I take the photo. I then store them in a shoebox for future reference when making my computer entries.If you are completely stumped, there are many good online resources that can help you identify a plant. Explore the following sites to see which one meets your needs:Cal Photos http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/USDA United States Dept. of Agriculture http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=IRFUAmerican Horticultural Society http://www.ahs.org/horticulture_internet_community/index.htmMarin Chapter of California Native Plant SocietyNow that I have my journal started, it is easy to add more photos and information. I have also taken some overview shots of various areas of the garden in order to highlight color and planting schemes. My journal has taken on a life of its own, growing along with my garden.