Northern Shade Gardening

Plant Bloom Record Keeping

Saturday, June 14, 2008 Category: Garden Record Keeping

Linum perenne \'Blue Sapphire\' (flax)I like to keep track of when my flowers bloom each year. I record the information on a simple horizontal bar graph, which I’ve attached as a sample bloom table. Of course flowering times for perennials in the garden vary from year to year, depending on the temperature, amount of sun and rain, etc. I find the spring plants especially can vary in their bloom time by quite a bit, depending on the weather. Still, it’s helpful to know about when to expect various flowers such as this Linum perenne (flax), for how long they bloom, and which other plants are flowering at the same time. Will the flowering time of those pink Dianthus caryophylus (carnations) on the left overlap the flowering L. perenne?

I make a simple table with a word processor, with the first column for the plant name and then columns labeled with the names of the months. I put the plant names in order according to when they start flowering, in rows starting at the top. I do this as I go, or by editing last year’s table. For each plant, I type a line across the cells, from left to right, corresponding to how long during the month it’s in bloom. If a plant starts blooming a quarter or halfway through the month, the line starts a quarter or halfway across the cell. It’s easy to mentally divide the cells into 4 sections for weeks. Then you can see in one glance, the cycle of flowering from the top left to bottom right.

The bloom table is useful to see the length of time different plants are in flower, by scanning across the rows sideways. It’s very easy then to visually sort the long bloomers from the short bursts of beauty.

You can also scan down the columns to see which flowers overlap their bloom time. Then you know if you have any hope of 2 plants blooming at the same time before transplanting them. As well, you see which months/weeks have lots of perennials and shrubs blooming, and which periods in the garden are more sparse, by scanning in a line down any month.

It’s a simple table, but very useful. It’s easy to see the bloom times in summer, when you’re standing in your garden, but the chart is helpful visualizing when you’re planning at different times. I’ve included a pdf attachment of my 2008 bloom table, as a sample of how it looks. The names are abbreviated to fit the cells.

The table only goes from May to September, because the rest of the months are usually white, both on the bloom table and on the ground. This could be why I have more time for record keeping. Do you like to keep track of the flowering times of your plants?

You can find another  garden record keeping spreadsheet I use to keep track of all the other plant details in this other post.

Garden Record Keeping Part 2

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 Category: Garden Record Keeping

In my last post, I described how I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my plant information. You can see how to set up the details for a garden record keeping spreadsheet here. I attached a sample spreadsheet to show how useful it can be for sorting plants by different categories. I’ve included a screencast here to show how it can rearrange information about your plants.

Here is a flash demo sorting the northern shade spreadsheet by height. It starts automatically and the cursor shows the steps being completed. Just click the green arrow in the bottom left to see it again. This just shows the upper left corner of the spreadsheet, but I hope it gives a better picture.

This is shown using Microsoft Excel 2007, but I use an open source program called OpenOffice.org calc to create my spreadsheets. It is very similar.

Although I find it very helpful to organize my plant data and keep records for planning, I realize that sometimes beauty is intangible and hard to quantify.

impatiens, double flowering

Linum perenne flower Dianthus foliage

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.