Garden Journal: Electronic vs Paper

swanoir(Zone 5)May 3, 2010

Thought this might be useful in terms of landscaping management and design...

Summary: In reviewing options for garden journals, there are three main choices: paper, online, or software. A fairly in-depth analysis reveals that a journal created by the gardener is almost always superior to the garden journal software currently available.


Paper-based garden journals were the way people originally tracked information about their garden or landscape, and it is still very popular. There are a number of different methods from Rolodex cards to professional paper-based systems. Generally, paper-based systems are inexpensive, mobile, and easy accessible. In fact, paper-based systems are the most cost-effective way to start a journal, since the other two methods require hardware. High quality, sturdy components generally performed better than cheaper alternatives and lasted longer.

Three-ring binders afford gardeners the ability to remove or add notes, sections, sketches, or other paper-based materials at will an advantage over hardbound diary systems, journal-style calendar books, or compositions books. Components, such as a manila folder for receipts, pocket folders for seed packs, or index cards for quick notes, can be added to the system fairly easily. Archiving is easy and stable, compared to the other two options, and some people enjoy the thought that their garden journal could be a legacy to other family members sometime in the future.

The disadvantages of paper-based systems include time consuming searching, running out of space within the system, loss of notes or other papers, and lack of flexibility in terms of moving individual pieces of data (e.g. one plant entry) around within the system. Some gardeners report being overwhelmed by all the different pieces of paper that needs to be managed. Inserting photos into some forms of paper-based systems can also be challenging. Finally, sharing the information in a paper-based system, especially remotely, is neither quick nor easy.

An example of a professionally done paper-based garden journal system: A GardenerÂs Journal


The older of the two electronic means of tracking gardening information, garden journal software is still popular. Like paper-based systems, there are a number of different options from spreadsheets to dedicated gardening management software. Software has the benefit of rapid data aggregation, increased flexibility, better reporting functions, and superior search abilities. It also allows the creator to easily share information rapidly and remotely.

For simplicity sake, the main focus of this section will be dedicated software packages for garden management. User created electronic garden journals (using spreadsheets, Word documents, etc.) will be addressed at that end.

As with the paper-based system, there are a number of drawbacks to the software model. First, the software is tied to the developer  if the developer stops supporting the software, goes out of business, or stops upgrading the software, there is no recourse. All the years of data you have put into the system may be jeopardized, especially if there is no way to export the data. In addition, the software is molded to the developerÂs way of thinking and gardening  too bad if it doesnÂt match yours.

Second, it is unlikely that any software package will have all the components that you want and in most cases you will be unable to change this. Software garden journals also require hardware, so they are more limited and less mobile in this way then paper-based journals. A brief scan of the Apple iStore suggests that cell phone apps for garden journals are not yet ready for prime time, some being little more than templates.

Third, data entry can be time consuming depending on the interface and the userÂs typing skills.

Finally, archiving and data corruption are significantly larger and more difficult issues with a software solution.

Some software garden journals currently available:

1. Garden Tracker

Offers worksheets, database, reports, to-do lists, ability to organize photos and videos, and ability to create markers/labels/seed packets. May be useful for someone with only basic needs. The program offers no way to pull out or compare weather data, for example, and comes with only limited plant information. There is also no built in backup function. Developer has been supporting product for 8 years and is responsive to email inquiries. Standard Edition $59.95; software alone $29.99

2. Premier Gardens by Pleasant Lake Software

Billed as software for home garden, professional landscape, and master gardener, Premier Gardens has fair number of components: plant catalog provided by a bulb company, ways to track multiple gardens, plant inventory, planning list, grids, weather, and various reports. The developer offers a 30 days free trial and is responsive to email inquiries.

The program has some quirks. For example, the Plant Catalog has an area to put in the botanical name, but no column that shows it in the grid below, so you are limited to searches by common name. Plants cannot be put into the Garden Plants sections directly  they have to be imported ("planted") from the Plant Catalog.

The Garden Plants section offers common name, cultivar, primary and secondary color, pattern, flower date, information on purchasing.etc. There are no input areas for light, moisture, dimensions, soil type, pH, botanical name, etc. unless you use the comments area, which does not appear to be searchable. The program does have a Planning section for tracking plants you may want to acquire and a Transplant tracking function.

The website speaks about a maintenance section, which turns out to be an add-on you need to order separately and is still in development. Thus, no real ability to track monthly gardening tasks, "to-do" list tasks, etc. as yet in the main program. There is no real diary function with this program and you cannot paste data into the database using the right click of the mouse  you need to use keyboard commands. The interface is easy to use, however, and the program comes with an extensive userÂs manual. The program does have the ability to allow unlimited pictures in the Garden Plants section and there is a limited amount of customization available via the Settings section.

Price: $39.95

3. Gardens and Plants 6.02

Seems more for nurseries  allows you to build a database of plants.

4. Garden Organizer Deluxe 3.3

Reviewed by CNET Â three out of five stars. Reviewers disliked program interface, the navigation system inspired dread, and nothing about the program was intuitive.

5. HMK Consultants Garden Management System

Billed as a garden management package, HMK claims to, "store horticultural information, plant detail and plant images for the plants in your garden." One reviewer found that the garden description information for each plant was awkward and she had trouble returning to the main menu without having to completely reopen the program each time, which lead her to return the product. Another reviewer felt it was targeted to the casual gardener because of the lack of detail you can enter into the program. Two other reviewers enjoyed the program.

$30 Canadian

6. My Garden Journal by Upper Shores Software

Excellent program: icon driven navigation, weather database, diary, plant inventory, seed inventory, maintenance planning, garden reminders, garden tips, calculator, frost table, built in backup system, and photo viewer. Drawback? The developer stopped selling/supporting the software, which makes it untenable to own it any longer.


A new form of tracking gardening information is to store it online, either on a dedicated site or via a blog. Online gardening journals enjoy many of the same benefits as the software option: rapid data aggregation, increased flexibility, ease of sharing with others, and superior search abilities. Archiving is still an issue, but there is less of a problem with data corruption.

The biggest drawback with the online gardening journals is that your information is on someone elseÂs server. If they decided to discontinue the site, your information could be lost as well. Access can be a problem if you are not at a computer or if your online connection goes down. Also, sharing is different in this environment  instead of sending the information itself, users typically send the URL of their blog or online data. If at a future time you do not want people to have access to this data, or if you only want them to access to some of it, things become more difficult.

Example of a dedicated online gardening journal: Green Thumb Journal

Personal Solution:

The take home lesson seems to be that a garden journal created by the gardener is superior to the limited software packages currently available. Whether paper-based, or created either with applications or online, the DIY solution is cheaper and provides the possibility of the best-tailored solution for the gardener. This is also evident in other Gardenweb threads discussing this topic:

Because of this, I decided to build my own garden journal using components of Office 2007. This could probably be done equally well with the free Open Office suite. First, I created an Excel spreadsheet with the following tabs: Weather, Plants, Diary, Maintenance, Activities (for planning), Sections (of my landscape), and Seed Inventory. The Plants section, for example, tracks botanical name, cultivar, common name, date planted, plant type, area planted, light requirements, moisture requirements, pH, soil type, flower color, foliage color, bloom time, climate, dimensions, and notes. There is also a status area that lets me track plants that have died or that I removed and why.

Second, extensive notes and photos for each plant is held in a separate Word document that I have been creating for years.

Finally, all components are held together in One Note. I created a new notebook called Garden Journal and a section called Dashboard that has all the components (Excel spreadsheets, Word docs, website links, etc.) hyperlinked in one place for easy access. I also have a section called Articles for relevant gardening information. It would be easy to have a section called Blogs to archive all blog entries in order to access them offline when necessary. The permutations are endless, depending on your needs: a Dairy section, a Photo section, a Plans or Design section etc. For mobility and archiving, it is a simple matter to make a hard copy as needed.

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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

It never would have occurred to me to purchase software to track my garden. Like you, I find an Excel spreadsheet to be a versatile tool for tracking the information that interests me, and a simple Word document, or file of documents, can contain any quirky info not suitable for a spreadsheet. In addition to the computer-drawn plan, I have a large-scale printout of my new garden plan with a 10' by 10' grid for a visual record of the location of specimens. The grid coordinates go into the spreadsheet, and my husband swears he's going to give me GPS coordinates for the plants. : )

I once had a paper garden journal, but my entries were very sporadic so the result is incomplete, and the journal lacked any organization beyond calendar dates, not very useful for the type of data you are keeping. These days I type far better than I write, such has been my evolution...

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 12:51PM
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swanoir(Zone 5)

I had a fantasy that, with a software package, everything would be integrated in one place. Like the landscape design software packages, however, this is far from the case, which is surprising. If we can create a reasonable garden journal with Excel and Word, how hard can it really be?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 1:14AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Microsoft Access used to come with a pre-made personal plant collection database included, perhaps still does.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 11:00AM
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