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A friend passed along a little book of gardening stories to me a few days ago and I started reading about a man who was getting frustrated because his azaleas had stopped growing. He had purchased about 15 of them, hoping for a nice big border of white in the spring.

To make a long – and pretty humorous – story short (and less funny), after asking everyone he knew for suggestions, he got some good advice from the mailman: “Feed them!” So the man fed them. And when that didn’t seem to work, he fed them again. And again, and again. In between times, he watered and watered until the poor things just gave up and died. Nothing the man had tried worked for him. In the end, he dug up the row of azaleas to put in the compost pile.

And that’s when he noticed a tag left on one of them that said “Dwarf white azalea.”

I use this story not to tell you not to over-feed or over-water, (which are other columns entirely) but to recommend that when you purchase a new plant, keep the tags in a safe place so you can refer to them when needed. There is a lot of valuable info on those little tags. Ideally, the tag should stay with the plant, but as I don’t like the sight of little plant tags all through the garden, I instead keep them in clear plastic sleeves (the kind used for 8 x 10” photos) in a binder, taped onto paper with a note as to when they were planted, where they were purchased and their cost, and their location in the garden. If the plant gets moved, it is easy to note that on the page. Same if it doesn’t make it. But I still keep the page in the binder to remind me not to purchase that specific plant again.

This binder also acts as my garden journal. I generally keep my journal on the computer, but at the end of the season, I print it out and place it in the binder with the plant tags. All neat and tidy.

I have often talked of the importance of keeping a garden journal. Vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees, it doesn’t matter what type of gardening you prefer. A journal can act as a “history book” as to what has been done in the garden. My journals go back to 2002, when I first became a Tillamook County Master Gardener. To write this column, I took out the first volume (I now have three!) and was looking through to see what has changed and what I had forgotten about. It was quite eye-opening.

For instance, the coral bark maple called ‘Sanko Kaku’ was put into place in 2005. It cost $14.95 then. It looms above me now and is beautiful in all seasons. Of course, none of the annuals that were planted that year remain, but I still have “daughter” plants from the mother plant of Heuchera ‘Crimson Curls.’ I also marked down when and where I placed slug bait and was so efficient back in those days that I recorded its success a few days later.

Going back further, I see I recorded a week of lovely, warm weather in January of 2003. Apparently, I used the nice weather to cut back some fuchsia and move some tulip bulbs closer to the house. I also found labels from lots of daffodils I planted in the fall of 2003. Come to think of it, I only have a couple of the forty I planted left. Something else to add to this year’s journal: “order daffodil bulbs to plant in the fall of 2020.” So the journals don’t have to be only history, but what to do in the future.

Looking back to 2004, I noticed I tried a lot of different Salvias and Agastache but none of those survived more than a couple of seasons. I learned my lesson as I don’t see notes about getting more of those plants anywhere since then. I do still enjoy the ‘Mrs. P.B. Truax’ clematis I planted that year, as well as the Heucheras ‘Amber Waves’ and ‘Obsidian.’ Again, I only have daughter plants of the Heucheras since the mother plants wore themselves out years ago. In fact, the ones I have now are most likely “granddaughter” plants.

A label is in the binder for a very pretty petunia called ‘Celia’ that was to be a double, mauve English petunia. Now, I probably bought it because of my Anglophilia, but it was very pretty in the picture on the tag although I don’t remember seeing it in nurseries since then.

And although I don’t have tags from all the plants friends gave me as described in my last column, I did make note of them in the journals. Another nice reminder as I leaf through them today. My journals are my garden’s “history.” And to quote Winston Churchill, “History will be kind to me as I intend to write it.”

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