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The Joys of Garden Journaling
by Pam Ruch - posted 09/17/18


The Journaling Life

Journaling is a practice, and it is an awakening of the mind. When you begin the practice of active observation, you will feel yourself changing. If you are naturally inquisitive, you will become more so. You may also find that drawing elements of nature — the bark of a tree, a flower, a cicada shell — serves as a meditative, and therefore restorative, experience.

Once the explosion that is summer comes to a screeching halt, gardeners are susceptible to “garden fatigue.” Ah, but fall is for reflection — on the successes and failures of the year’s garden, on the “bones” of the landscape, on the cyclical nature of life. It is a time for slowing down, observing, writing snippets of poetry. It is the perfect time to start a garden journal.

Journaling may take various forms. One person’s journal might be a recording of bloom times; another’s might be filled with drawings and notes on vegetable varieties. Regardless of how you journal, you’ll find that developing the habit of acute observation will bring surprising discoveries.

Put together a kit and you’ll be ready to journal at a moment’s notice.

Step 1: The Kit
A journaling kit should be simple and lightweight. The essentials:

• A shoulder bag or backpack.
• A journal. Choose one that is spiral-bound, so it opens flat. You will find yourself transfixed by the head of a sunflower, a bark pattern, or some other wonder, and your arm may be the only available ledge.
• Drawing pen. Fine-point drawing pens are excellent for outlining the shape of a leaf, or jotting down notes. I prefer sepia to black, as it creates a softer, more natural image.
• Pencils. Inexpensive mechanical pencils (such as BIC brand) stay sharp. Also carry a soft lead pencil, such as an ebony pencil or a 4B, for shadows.
• Colored pencils. Rather than carrying a whole set, choose the few that you are most likely to use. Or, take color notes and add hues later at home.
• A camera. Shots of insects can be enlarged and identified later.
• A hat. Not only does a brimmed hat offer sun protection, it keeps insects from aggravating you as you write or draw.
• Insect repellent. Spray your hat and clothing.
• A magnifier. An inexpensive 10x lens can be attached to a string and worn around your neck.
• Optional: Binoculars and field guides.



April 5 • April 20 • May 20
Spirea leafs out around a praying mantis egg sac

Step 2: Journaling Rules
Of course there are no real rules — your journal is yours to use however you wish. That being said, I will share the practices that have been valuable to me.
• Give yourself the gift of time, that is, turn yourself over to your journal completely for an hour or two, with no expectation other than to discover what there is to discover.
• Start each page by writing the date, the time, the place, and a note on the weather. This will help bring the experience back as you review your journal.
• Turn off the cell phone. If you are to become immersed in the experience, you will not want to be distracted.
• Turn on your curiosity. There are mysteries everywhere. Open your mind to them.

Step 3: A Few Journaling Exercises

Curious about what’s inside a goldenrod stem gall? Open it up and see.

If you’ve never journaled before, try these exercises:
• Hold a leaf in one hand. Very slowly, with your other hand, draw its outline, looking only at the leaf, and not at your paper. Follow every serration or wave of its edge with your pen.
• Take 10 to 15 minutes to just listen. Write down every detail of sound — the cawing of crows, the rustling of leaves, highway sounds. Create a haiku, a three-line poem with 5-7-5 syllables per line, respectively, if you wish.
• Observe a specific spot on successive days or weeks, and document the changes with drawings, words or photos.
• Collect seedpods. Examine their architecture. Describe or draw them.
• Find something in your landscape that puzzles you — a weed you don’t know by name, a gall or an egg mass. Document it with a drawing, and then try to solve the mystery.


A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography and Illustrations courtesy of Pam Ruch.


Pam Ruch gardens at the Nurture Nature Center and the Glasbern Inn. You’ll find her nature journal at