Remembering the Garden

Using a plant identification app on an iPhone. Photo by Lise Jenkins.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

One of the advantages of gardening in the Piedmont is that we gardeners can aim to have something in bloom almost 12 months a year – but this takes some planning.

I used to keep a garden journal, listing those plants that were in bloom on a specific day, those that were thriving and those that were a little peevish. However, after faithfully keeping the journal for four years, the computer gremlins managed to eat it up – though, in truth, my tacky fingers might have had something to do with it. The journal is gone forever but I have found a great (and better) replacement, namely, my iPhone.

Cell phones now take wondrous photos that are stored in the cloud — although I would have trouble explaining exactly where that cloud resides. Suffice it to say that you can now organize your garden photos into albums so you can quickly see what was happening on a precise day in 2015.

All gardens change as they tend to get shadier with maturity. It’s edifying to see what you started out with and what you ended up with. It’s fun to see that fifteen-foot windmill palm when it was a baby or the wonderful rose ‘Peggy Martin’ in its infancy.

Recollecting the different seasons in the garden is a bit akin to packing for a trip to Antarctica in the middle of a heatwave: You know it will be cold but because of the extreme heat it’s hard to imagine how numbing cold can be. This is the reason that photos are an excellent method for refreshing our garden memory.

However, the real purpose of these photos is to show what plants bloom in a particular month. If you are like me, by the time autumn has rolled around, you simply have forgotten what the spring garden looked like. Conceptually, you remember spring produces a lot of blooms but do you really remember when a particular crinum blooms? Dahlias slowly reappear in May after the soil has warmed up but when do the first flowers appear? When do the last of the Camellia japonicas cease putting out their flowers?

Gardens, of course, are a lot fuller in the late spring, summer, and fall than they are during the winter months. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself in an effort to remember those plants that disappear during the winter for their annual slumber. By looking at photos taken in the spring, I am able to recall that these empty winter spaces will quickly fill in with the advent of warmer temperatures. If I don’t do this, I’ll end up introducing new flowers or shrubs on top of sleeping plants, such as the hostas. I already have a number of planted-over calla lilies that are late spring arrivals.

Use the camera to determine which months you need flowers. Our winters appear to be changing so the photographic record becomes all the more important. I have a lovely camellia, ‘Debutante,’ that insists its flowering time is in December, just when we used to experience a hard freeze. As a result, it often sported brown blooms rather than the charming pink ones it genetically issues. Now, with our hard freezes only occurring sporadically, ‘Debutante’ has a better chance of brandishing its finery in December and early January.

If you should spy a great plant that’s in bloom – and you have no idea what it is – cell phones are now here to clear up the mystery. There are apps out there that will tell you, as will that mysterious “i” that appears on the iPhone. It might not be able to identify the exact cultivar but once you have the name of the species and genus, detective work is both gratifying and fun.

Research the plants that flower in the winter, adding them to your truly empty spaces. Experiment. You might enjoy the Algerian iris, Iris unguicularis, or you might have good luck growing Daphne odora, both of which flower in the middle of winter.

Through these photographic records, I have learned so much about my garden. Try it yourself – and then bless that cloud that can store your endless stream of photos.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email:



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