I thought I might show you my Garden Diary today with a background of Garden Diary Musica! Chair dance!
I’m a big diary keeper, which I know you know. I have them for all reasons and in all seasons. They help me keep track of the days, but there was definitely a purpose for the garden diary I kept when we went to England in 2004. It’s turned out to be quite handy — I refer to it all the time, so I thought I’d show it to you, in case this is something you might like to do.
Here it is. This narrow little spiral book fit perfectly into my purse and went everywhere I went for the two months we were garden hopping along the country roads of England. The burn mark? That is actually from a candle when we returned home — it happened during a dinner party when we were looking at this diary at the table. So although it’s not pretty, I kind of don’t mind it. Candlelight burns from a wonderful dinner party are relatively acceptable.
I did not make this diary as pretty as the one I made for you. This one was just for me, the handwriting is fast, the diary was almost all written while standing up. I jotted down everything I saw that I loved. Day after day, as we visited garden after garden (we went to twenty-six of them), I remarked on river walks, wild gardens, woodland gardens and knot gardens, (even Prince Charles’s garden at Highgrove) and wrote down the latin names for flowers and plants. I wanted to go home having learned something.
If I saw something I fell in love with, I wrote about it, as much information as I could garner. I would hunt down the grounds-people if I really needed to know the name of something. I would photograph it too, so I could see it all later. In our Martha’s Vineyard garden now, we have alpine strawberries, rhododendron, sweet woodruff, white bleeding hearts, golden yew, and lots of other things just because of this little diary and what we learned in the beautiful amazing gardens in England where every single day Joe and I GASPED at the beauty of what we were seeing.
If I saw a big flowering tree, a long walkway, or a homemade fence that I liked, I would write it down, or maybe sketch it in case we wanted to try to do it at home. When I saw little photos or garden ideas in magazines (I would read them in pubs), I cut them out and put them in my book.
English people are crazy for gardening. Even where there is no soil in front of a stone house, the house will be covered in flowered baskets. They have the perfect sky, water, sun, soil for every growing thing.
We learned how important plant shapes are in a beautiful garden ~ something I’d never thought much about.
Right there ↑ … that’s the best advice I ever learned and could pass on when it comes to gardening: Grow things that are naturally happy in your area. (Above that National Trust sticker you see in this photo I wrote this notation: “Here I am, lying on the lawn with Joe in the rose garden at Lanhydrock, thinking (because I just came out of their tea shop) how much I love being called ‘sweetheart’ and ‘darling’ — by the sweethearts and darlings who work in the tea shops — makes me think of my grandma.” ♥
So there is more in this garden diary than gardens — little moments are recorded too, as they happened.
I have practically a library of garden books I’ve collected over the years — old ones with wonderful pictures I found in used bookstores, and new ones too. But my own little diary has given me the very best information and inspiration of them all, because I already know I love everything in it.
I didn’t just put garden advice in it either, although that’s what 90% of it is — but if I heard a quote or saw something in a house that I liked, I wrote it down or sketched that too. (I even sketched a farmers market/coffee shop layout we saw just in case someday we wanted to have a farmer’s market/coffee shop — I figured I would be ready — it was the perfect shop ~ I had to do it!)
You know my girlfriend Rachel who lives in England, is famous for her brownies, who started out as my pen pal and then we became really dear friends? Above is a quick sketch I did while standing in her Mom’s bathroom in her house in England. I loved that bathroom — the house was very old and the bathroom was filled with hints of the years of family farm life … I stood there for a few moments sketching it into my book. It was so old-fashioned and real. So now, in our bathroom here on the island, instead of hunting guns, there are fishing poles in the corner next to the sink, and our Wellies, Joe’s big black ones, my smaller colorful ones, are lined up, complete with dried mud on the soles, on the black and white checked linoleum floor under the sink. This little diary, which I brought home with me, has turned out to be a minefield of inspiration.
Nepeta, a wonderful gorgeous purple plant with sage colored leaves that grows like crazy in our garden … we have it! I discovered what the birds loved, what would make the bees and butterflies happiest. Here was a little painting idea I loved — an oil on small unframed canvases, to set on a shelf. So what did we walk away with — did we use any of this at home? Oh yes.
We put everything we learned to work. I learned that flowers aren’t all there are to a garden. That was a shock. They are the delicious sweet frosting with sprinkles on top, but the cake matters too! Before this trip, my gardening life was almost all about flowers ~ like a kid eating the frosting off a cake as the sole provider of his nourishment. But bushes and shrubs are just as important, and when I began to understand how it all came together, they became just as beautiful to me. They bring the foundation to a garden in a way that a bunch of pansies, even a whole stand of pansies, could never do. And I found out that the shapes of plants matter, whether they sit like a giant ball or block, climb up a wall, weep, grow skinny and tall like a post, or crawl along the ground. It’s the contrast that makes things interesting. (I know what I know now, which is a drop in the bucket, but in a few years, I will know more. This is a work in progress.) ♥
I particularly fell in love with the idea of limey yellow-gold and purple colors together. And texture, that was new to me too; I started noticing how interesting tiny leaves looked next to really big ones, how spiky leaves looked next to soft leaves, how a long green narrow leaf looks next to a short round yellowish one. I’d never read that in my garden books (or maybe I just didn’t know what they were trying to say).
Here’s another color mix … lime, and purple with spots of orange. And see the contrast between leaf colors and shapes? I used to wonder why my potted porch plants didn’t look interesting together — but now I know it was because the plants I chose all had the same basic shape, color and size of leaf and flowers.
I learned to see things differently … learned about shape and texture and planned new gardens that reflected it. I also began to appreciate hedges in a new way. There are hedgerows all over England (I wrote more about them in our new book); some are wildly untended, draped in wild May flower or spirea, and some are clipped to the nth degree in amazing shapes, into mazes, ball-shapes, pyramids, animals and squares. Some of them are cut into tall teetering fanciful indescribable shapes with no name at all. Every house, castle and tearoom has a hedge. But for us and our more modest garden, we found that even the simplest round bush in a loose and flowing flower garden is the perfect thing and makes a wonderful contrast.
Our little clumps of boxwood — they are just green and pretty but they get no discernible flowers at all.
Inspired by England, we planted this long hedge/bird motel down the driveway of our property in California. There’s a bird motel next to our Post Office on the island too, and for all the years I’ve lived here, through generations of birds really, the music you hear going into the post office (or down our driveway) is bird song — every spring they’re in there, twittering, skiffering, canucking, kaboodling and chippering, all the things that birds do that make us love them so much. (. . . all words made up, do not look for meaning). If you would like to make a bird motel at your house, the earth will thank you. ♥
I still love my pink sugar frosting.
But now I get some of it from shrubs, that’s beauty bush above (kolkwitzia amabilis). I hope this post inspires you to get a little book of your own (especially if you are planning a trip where you will be visiting lots of gardens). Put your book in your purse so that when you see a plant, flower, bush, hedge, rose you like, you can jot it down. Let it be a book of inspiration; add other things that catch your fancy, scribble a picture, add a photo, sketch a pathway. Keep the book for one season, and forever you will know what plants to choose for your garden. (And btw, I turned my garden diary over, started from the other end, and that’s where I wrote about the restaurants we visited and food we loved.)
As I mentioned, the most important thing I learned: unless a plant grows well in our area, in our soil, in our zone, with our weather, I force myself to forget about it. I try not to torture myself with an unhappy plant that doesn’t want to live here. No gardenias on Martha’s Vineyard even tho’ they sell them in the nurseries. I just take a huge breath of that delicious flower fragrance and move on. I can no longer be tricked. But it’s still not easy! I just remind myself that there are many wonderful things that love it here, thrive, and come back every year.
This is the time of year when so many beautiful things are blooming, you’ll fill your book in no time with notes and inspiration for your next year’s garden, even when driving around your own neighborhood. Or, maybe you’ll plan the garden of your dreams, the one you hope to have someday. Nothing happens unless first we dream . . . so dream on girlfriends. ♥ Until we meet again . . . XOXO