Gardeners’ Record-Keeping: Some Preliminary Results
Recently, I’ve been doing research on gardeners’ record-keeping habits in preparation for a talk I will give next month as part of the McLaughlin Garden Winter Lecture series. Many readers of this blog were kind enough to complete my on-line survey. I asked gardeners four basic questions: (1) What do they grow in their gardens? (2) What kinds of information do they keep records of? (3) Do they keep those records by hand, in an electronic format, or both? (4) What kinds of formatting strategies do they use to organize the information they want to record?
Seventy-six gardeners filled out my questionnaire, and seventy-two of those included usable information about their record-keeping habits; my preliminary analysis is based on those seventy-two respondents. Since I recruited gardeners to complete my questionnaire through my existing garden contacts – this blog, my local Master Gardener Volunteers, members of a garden club I belong to – my responses were weighted toward ornamental gardening and are not representative of all gardeners. Only one person who responded grew food plants only (vegetables, berries, herbs, tree fruits), but more than one-third (38%) grew no vegetables. Ninety-three percent grew ornamental perennials 82% grew ornamental annuals, and 81% grew ornamental shrubs and trees.
What do gardeners want to know about their gardens? These seventy-two gardeners kept records on an impressive range of information. I asked gardeners about a list of thirteen types of gardening information and also left them space to note “other” types of content in their garden records. While one person reported recording only one of these types of content and one reported recording all fourteen, the average gardener in my survey kept records of five different types of garden information. The graph below shows the information types in descending order of their use. The five mostly commonly recorded types of information are a list of plants grown (86%), maps or plans of garden areas (65%), notes and ideas for future garden projects (63%), sources of plants (54%) and planting and/or harvest dates (54%).
How did these gardeners keep their records? Most (54%) used a combination of hand and electronic records. Another fairly large group (33%) kept records by hand only. Only a small group (13%) kept all their garden records electronically. Of more interest than whether gardeners recorded information by hand or on a computer are the formats they used to organize that information. In the survey, I asked gardeners about eight different formats for organizing information and once again left room for them to tell me about other strategies not included on my list. For each type of organizing format, I asked them to indicate whether they used it often, sometimes or never.
The graph above shows that lists were the most commonly used organizing format, followed by photos. Sketches and journals or narratives were also used by the majority of gardeners who responded to this survey. Almost all my gardening respondents used multiple strategies for organizing information about their gardens; the average gardener used four different organizing formats. Not surprisingly, since hand recording and computer recording lend themselves to different organizing strategies, those who kept both hand and electronic records used more organizing strategies than those who kept records only by hand or only electronically.
This survey can’t tell me which organizing strategies were used to record which kinds of information. That is a question for the next phase of my research, which will involve a series of case studies. I will use my own electronic garden records as one case study, and I’m also hoping to conduct interviews with at least one gardener who keeps hand records only and one who keeps a combination of hand and electronic records. These case studies will allow me to look in greater depth at why and how gardeners record certain kinds of information about their gardeners.