Northern Shade Gardening

Garden Record Keeping System

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 Category: Garden Record Keeping

I like to keep track of my garden plants. Using a spreadsheet helps me organize the information so it’s easily accessible in a useful way. I add to it as I get new plants, updating the information as I learn more about the plants in my garden. I find it particularly helpful, because I can sort the information by a number of different factors, depending on what I want to know. I’ve attached a copy of my spreadsheet as a sample of what you can do. You can download it and modify it to organize your own garden records.

I use an open source program called OpenOffice.org calc for my spreadsheet, but I’ve saved a copy as an Excel document for anyone who’d like to see it in this format using Microsoft Office Excel. You have to highlight the whole chart before sorting, or it only sorts the one column which messes it up. Once the whole spreadsheet is highlighted, in Microsoft Office Excel 2007 you click “data”-> “sort”-> “sort by”. In the “sort by” drop down menu, you pick the name of the column you’d like to sort the information by.

Northern Shade Plant Spreadsheet, Microsoft Office Excel version

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd columns have the genus, species and cultivar or variety name of the plant. The 4th column has the common name. My default arrangement is in alphabetical order by genus name, but you can also rearrange by the 4th column to see them arranged in alphabetical order by common name. I started last year putting a Z in front of the genus name for plants that die or that I remove from the garden instead of deleting them from the spreadsheet. This effectively places them at the end of the list, since I have no zinnias.

The 5th and 6th columns contain the height and width measurements of the plants. I start off with the plant label measurements and change them as I see how it performs in the garden. Now this is where the spreadsheet format comes in handy. I can highlight the chart and reorder by the 5th column. With 3 clicks my plants are all rearranged in order by height. This is useful when looking for a back of the border plant or edging perennial. If I sort by the 6th column, I will have all my plants arranged from narrowest to broadest width.

The 7th column contains the flower colour. I can re-order the plants with 3 clicks into colour groupings and quickly find all of my blue or white plants, I put the main colour first and a modifier after it so you can sort by ‘blue light’ and ‘blue purple’ if you want or ‘yellow gold’ and ‘yellow purple’.

In the 8th column I put the best estimate I can find, from the tag or other source, of the coldest zone in which it is supposed to survive. Then I can easily re-sort by zone hardiness. All the plants that are supposed to be hardy to zone 4 will all be together. If I was more into coddling my plants, I might add protection for these plants before the winter, but mostly I let the trees lay down a layer of leaves for insulation and count on good snow cover for an extra fluffy insulation layer. However, it’s still good to know which plants might be more risky. In hotter climates where heat tolerance is a more limiting factor, the other end of the zone scale would be more useful.

Light exposure preferences are in the 9th column. I use a 1 for the sun lovers down to a 4 for the most shade tolerant. Then I can easily click and rearrange the plants by light preference, 1 is sun, 2 is part shade/sun, 3 is used for part shade, and 4 is part shade/shade.

The 10th column has bloom time information. I use the month number in order to make it sortable in a useful way. If it blooms mostly in May it gets a 5. If it blooms from May to July it gets a 5/6/7. This way the plants sort by the month they start blooming in and then each is arranged by how long it blooms for. To make the numbers sort correctly like this, I formatted the column for text.

I also use a separate line chart to keep track more precisely of when my plants bloom and for how long. You can read about how to keep track of plant bloom times in this post.

The 11th column labels the plants as perennial, bulb or shrub. Click, click, click and all of the bulbs are sorted together. I haven’t included my trees on the spreadsheet.

In the 12th column I put the year the plant was originally added to my garden. I can then reorganize by how long a plant has been in my garden. Plants that I brought from my old house or were already in the garden usually get a 2000, so they’ll sort at the top.

Now, to counterbalance all those spreadsheet rows, columns and obsessive quantifying, here’s an area of my garden from last year with more unruly abandon.

Paeonia, Dianthus, Campanula, Linum, Iris, Flax

Now if only the rearranging in the garden was as quick as on my spreadsheet. Do you use a spreadsheet, or a different method of keeping track of your plants? If you use a spreadsheet, what columns do you find useful? Can you think of any other columns that would be helpful for recording and sorting plant information?

I’ve added a flash demo showing how the garden spreadsheet sorting works in the next post.

24 Responses to “Garden Record Keeping System” »

  1. Amy :
    June 10, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    I’m so impressed, you are incredibly organised! I started my blog as a way to chronicle my plants and what has been done in the garden. I was thinking of starting a garden journal, but I wanted photos, then I realised a blog would be an easy way to do both.

    Hooray for Open Office and open source software in general!!

  2. Stuart :
    June 11, 2008 at 4:18 am

    I love your idea however I’m a visual person so would it be possible to chuck a screenshot up of your spreadsheet so that we can actually view it! Please?

    It sounds like a great tool.

  3. Helen :
    June 11, 2008 at 5:31 am

    I’m impressed as I’m useless at maintaining records. I started a seed sowing register this year and have tried to record such things as when sowed, when germinated, what compost etc and was doing Ok until late March/early April when everything was germinating and I had more to sow and I sort of lost the plot abit. Never mind I will keep trying as I have already recognised that i sowed some too early

  4. Northern Shade :
    June 11, 2008 at 6:46 am

    Amy, a blog is a great way to keep track of your garden over the seasons, not to mention that it’s a fun way of sharing it with others. I like using Open Office. In fact I don’t have a copy of Microsoft Office, so I had to get a relative to double check that the file opened fine with it.

    Stuart, no problem, I’ll put up some pictures of it later today.

    Helen, spring is such a busy time in the garden. All of a sudden everything wants to reach for the sun. Everyday there’s something new. It’s hard to keep up with all the new growth. The information you do have in the register will probably help you next year, and then you can just continue expanding it next year.

  5. Eric :
    June 11, 2008 at 8:29 am

    I have just started to keep track of plants with computer software. I have a Mac, running OSX 10.5 (Leopard), and I recently purchased Bento, a simple database program for the Mac. I also use Excel a lot, but the advantage of Bento is that you can add pictures. In addition to tracking plants in my own garden, I take pictures of plants that I see and like at public gardens. Often there is a label, so my second picture is a close-up of the label. I then google the plant on the Internet and copy relevant information into various fields in my Bento database.
    As for sorting in Excel, you won’t have to highlight the entire sheet if you go to the Data menu and click on Filter, then choose “Autofilter”. In addition, you might want to keep some notes on a particular plant. You can do that in Excel by going to the Insert menu and choosing “Comment”. That will enable you to add a comment of several paragraphs to a particular cell; the comment only appears when you hover your mouse over the cell.

  6. Gail :
    June 11, 2008 at 11:10 am

    I keep all my plant tags and hope that helps! Thanks to your commenter Eric for the info on Bento…I will check that out! I am a mac user and Bento may be just the program to help me get a better handle on my plants!

    Gail

  7. Ms. S :
    June 11, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    I think this is brilliant! Thank you for sharing.
    Thank you also to the commentors who provided additional tips. Have I said lately how much I love this blog?? :-)

  8. Northern Shade :
    June 11, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Eric, thanks for the info and ideas. Bento sounds ideal with the addition of pictures. I like the idea of recording what you see at public gardens in an organized way.

    Gail, the program sounds great for garden record keeping, especially for the Mac.

    Ms. S, I’m glad it’s useful. I find with the garden covered in snow for half the year, I have a lot of time for planning.

    I put a Flash demo showing the sorting into the next post.

  9. John :
    June 16, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Your record keeping is really impressive. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of vegetable output for each of my plants, but it’s not nearly as extensive as yours. Great job and great blog!

  10. Northern Shade :
    June 16, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    John, thanks. Keeping track of the vegetable output is a good idea. You could experiment with different procedures and maintenance, and then record the results and yield.

  11. Shirley :
    July 19, 2009 at 6:22 am

    I also have garden spreadsheet. My additional columns include: height & width of plant, flower colour, foliage colour, theme (oriental, european, Australian native, planting position in my garden(west-bed, walk way, pool fence etc), pruning times, fertilising programs times and yes I use excel comments boxes. I have found it very very useful as a reference helps to learn and remember the botanical names my sheet has common names as well.
    I have just set one up for my daughter who is starting her first garden and she loves it.
    cheers and have fun

  12. Northern Shade :
    July 19, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Shirley, you have some great ideas for more information to record and sort by. I’ve thought of adding foliage colour, because that is very handy when planning groupings. I like your idea for theme, too, keeping track of the native plants, etc. Adding their planting position would be good for remembering their location, and general site to record their progress too. It would help in figuring out how successful certain plants are with specific factors, like your dry shade bed, etc. Location would probably be the one I had to update most. : )

    Thanks for the additional ideas.

  13. Lleni :
    October 5, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Thank you so much for the wonderful spreadsheet. I was searching for ways to keep garden records. Mine is a horrible mish mash in a spiral notebook, often out of order. I’m certainly going to try this spreadsheet. Open Office has a data base also, btw. I’ve never read a real blog before. This is great!

  14. Northern Shade :
    October 5, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Lleni, the spreadsheet is great for keeping track of your plants. Once you have the initial setup, it’s very easy to update, as you get new plants. If you’re entering the garden off-season now, it will give you something to do until you can get into the garden again. :) Let me know if you think of any refinements. There’s a link to a bloom chart, which is a very simple visual way of keeping track of your flowering times too. I have a lot of snowy months during which I can update my records and make new plans.

  15. PJL1281 :
    January 15, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Hey Northern Shade, I actually came across your blog by searching “Zone 3 plant list” in google. You were at the top. I’ve been working hard lately, itching for spring, looking up and cataloging plants in my yard. I moved into my home 6 years ago not knowing anything about gardening but interestingly enough, purchased the property because it had been professionally landscaped. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of trial and error to piece together everything, or rather a fraction, of what’s happening out there. Your site is a great model for me as I try and organize all the information I am collecting. It can be daunting with so many factors to consider. Reading through your spreadsheet was very interesting, thanks for sharing it. I personally want to start collecting my own seed so I might add a field for seed readiness similar to your bloom field into the spreadsheet I will be creating.

    Best of luck to you this coming spring. I will be looking forward to seeing your new developments.

  16. Northern Shade :
    January 16, 2011 at 7:46 am

    PJL1281, I’ve been picturing spring under that deep pile of snow, too. In the midst of our recent deep freeze, I looked up the dates of the first blooming bulbs in my garden, and calculated how many days until the first flowers. :) I should upload my most recent gardening spreadsheet to the site, as I’ve added many new plants that are hardy in zone 3. Your addition of the seed readiness field is a great idea. If you read through the perennial category articles, you can see some detailed photo closeups to help you with plant identification. This is a good time to work on the garden records, before things get busy in spring. Good luck with cataloguing your plants.

  17. Liza :
    September 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    What a wonderful blog! I found it when looking for info on Green Spice heuchara.

    Cab you identify the plants in the above photo? Your garden is lovely!!

  18. Northern Shade :
    September 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Liza, thanks. Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ has excellent foliage, very colourful and evergreen, so it looks good all season.

    The photo above is in part shade, since these plants appreciate some sun to get more blossoms. In the back on the left is a group of Campanula glomerata (clustered bellflower). Their flowers are very pretty, but the plants don’t look as good once the flower show is over. In the middle at the back are some pink Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Grenadin’ (perennial carnation). They have nice blue green leaves as well those pretty pink flowers, plus a terrific scent. The large pink flowers are Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, a really nice pink peony with a divine perfume. In front is a border of annual light blue Lobelia. It blooms all summer, and makes a great edging in the shade.

    There have been some more flowers added to this bed since I took this photo a few years back. There are some blue and purple iris, which look great with the colour scheme. I’ve also added some blue Campanula ‘Summertime Blues’ (bellflowers), which are a few feet tall, with large silvery blue bells. Another addition is some Phlox paniculata ‘David’(tall summer phlox) with tall white flowers, and ‘Davids Lavender’ with lavender coloured flowers for late summer and fall flowers. The more recent additions add to the cottage garden look. Planted in between the perennials are lots of crocus bulbs, to start the flowers blooming in early spring before the perennials are out. Also, at the back on the right there is now a Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lamb’ shrub that gets large white flowers in late summer and fall.

  19. Anonymous :
    February 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    hi would it be possible to email a spread how you desighned your spreadsheet to keep records of your garden I’m looking for something on the web and can’t find anything

  20. Northern Shade :
    February 21, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Hi # 19, if you click the link above called Northern Shade plant spreadsheet, you should be able to download a copy of my spreadsheet, and save it. You could play around with it, or you could just erase my specific plant info and insert your own.

    Also, I have another post which shows how to manipulate the plant spreadsheet.

    Please let me know if the link in the article doesn’t work for you to access a copy of the spreadsheet.

  21. Anonymous :
    January 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Hi Northern Shade
    I am so glad to have found this site. I am moving from zone 8 to Edmonton and garden-wise not too happy about it! Could you recommend your favorite garden nurseries around town?
    I love looking at the photos of all your hard work!

  22. Northern Shade :
    January 15, 2013 at 7:56 am

    #21, here are some of my favourite greenhouses all of which have a variety of plants, and I’ve noted some favourite points about them. If you are in the Northeast, there is Kuhlmann’s, which has an especially large collection of annuals,as well as others. Greenland Garden Centre north of Sherwood Park has a very good variety of plants, with a great selection of perennials for the shade, including lots of Heuchera and often large Hosta. Salisbury Greenhouses in Sherwood Park has many perennials, annuals, and trees, including a nice assortment of shade plants. They also get a terrific assortment of bulbs in the fall. In the southeast I like Millcreek Nursery, which has a good variety of trees and shrubs. In the south central, I like Ellerslie Gift and Gardens. In the far west, I like both Dunvegan and Cannor Nurseries. Those two are out of town, west of the Anthony Henday. Centrally, Wellington greenhouse on 137 Ave has a good selection, plus they have really nice display gardens.

    Good luck with your new garden. There is a big change in the number of plants for zone 3, but if you are in the city in a protected garden, you can often grow zone 4 perennials as well. Because the growing season is much shorter, I’ve found that growing perennials with evergreen leaves really helps keep the garden looking interesting in early spring and late fall, when the frosts have other plants cowering underground. Also, after a long winter, there’s nothing like a large bulbs display to perk you up. I plants lots of the earliest spring bulbs to get the garden going.

  23. Virginia :
    August 28, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    I just stumbled on to this blog. I LOVE IT. I know nothing about gardening but have just bought a house and want to plant a shade garden with perennials. I started a spreadsheet and then thought it was a crazy idea that only I would do. I’m going to investigate your spreadsheet more. I have so many more columns to add to mine.

    I’m in zone 4b in central Ontario. If I plant zone 3 plants instead of zone 4s will it be harder for me to kill them while I learn the difference between a stem and a stamen?

    Cheers
    Virginia

  24. Northern Shade :
    August 29, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Virginia, everything is more fun when you add numbers. :)

    Perennials hardy to zone 3 should have an even better chance of making it through the winter. Some of the plants I grow are rated hardy to zone 4, but they have done fine in my garden, perhaps because we usually have good snow cover, and it is fairly protected with all of the trees around.

    Have fun with your new garden, and feel free to ask any question if you want to know more about the plants or gardening in general.

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