Suggestions for making a Garden Inventory.
Any and All gardens may be the subject of a recorded plant inventory or catalogue. Such a list is a snap shot of the garden at one time but may also be used as a progress log to inform the garden owner and interested friends. A garden inventory of plants can be a vital record which informs future generations of family, social and garden historians especially if accompanied by plans, photos and notes. If it's not written down it may never have happened.
Step 1. Make a start. Start today
If available gather together commercial plant labels, invoices of plant purchases and record plant names. Bed by bed, area by area stand in the garden and try to write down a name for each plant you see. Any useful common or local name will do for a start.
Step 2. Plant Names. Choose a system of naming for plants in your garden
Most useful are lists made alphabetically on the basis of a correct botanical name, followed by a common name e.g. Toona ciliata (Red Cedar). Written in italics is the ‘binomial name’ of this tree based on genus (with a capital) and species (in lower case).Botanists may use a more correct but unwieldy naming system of Order, Family, Genus then species e.g. Order Sapindales; Family Meliaceae; Genus Toona; Species ciliata ; synonyms Toona australis, Cedrela toona, Cedrela australis, Cedrela velutina. Names may also be followed by the name of the botanist who recorded it e.g. Toona australis (F.Muell) named by garden director Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller. Domestic gardeners may find that a list based on the binomial then common name is more than enough to start with.
Least useful is a garden inventory based on common names alone as these may be wildly off the mark and misleading, though they may record social family history. E.g. “Aunty Joan’s red Hibiscus” could be a specimen of anything within the large genus Hibiscus or the family Malvaceae.
Step 3. Choose a system of grouping and organizing all the plant names so you can find them more easily
Most useful may be to divide plants into different sections for trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, bulbs & tubers and vines. Sub-sections for Orchids, grasses, tropical fruit trees, roses (as examples) may be useful if a garden contains specialised collections.
When accompanied by plans, a grouping of plants geographically, e.g front garden, east border, south orchard may be useful for both the gardener and future researchers.
Probably least practical for the domestic gardener is an attempt to alphabetically group plants of all shapes and sizes lumped together in one long list without any qualifying comments or description.
Step 4. Start to record , both on paper and with a computer word processor if you have one.
Buy a hard cover feint ruled year planner or diary. Divide up sections as per Step 3 above and make plenty space for each list e.g. perennials (or plants in East border). These lists will grow in an unruly way at first, with many corrections and additions.
If using a computer then open a document and start to type in lists of names as in Step 2 and Step 3 above. Double space as there will be much to add and amend as time goes on. When plant lists reach any sort of length, print them out and paste them in the hard cover ledger. This allows this record to be used as a notebook, for margin notes and handwritten researched information and name corrections. These book ledger changes can then be used to go back and amend the computer record.
Step 5. Don’t leave the inventory as a list of plant names. Add some detail and personal notes to the garden inventory .
This is the stuff which makes garden history. Suggestions may be a brief description, location in your garden, where the specimen was obtained, comments on flowering & vigour, country of origin and for some plants a record of it’s demise and possible cause. The note that a plant was a gift or planted to commemorate a person or event is social historical gold, at least to the family and possibly to future researchers. Recognise that your list will never be really finished.
An example of the foregoing could be: “ Zepharanthes rosea syn. Habranthus robustus. Evergreen, as with the white rain lily beautiful pink trumpets appear over these low growing strappy leaf plants after rain. Near roses at front door and laundry path from 2008 to present. Propagates easily from seed and self seeds. Argentina”
Step 6. Share your inventory of garden plants . At the very least maintain your personal record for yourself and family. A printed list or a computer document can be shared with friends, garden club members and even published ‘on line’ in garden club web-sites. I would recommend making a booklet, including sketch plans and photographs and organizing a limited private published edition. With a simply obtained library cataloguing ISBN number your printed Garden Inventory may then be lodged as a legal deposit in National and State libraries and as a resource in local libraries.
Step 7. Continue to refine your inventory with private research.
Developing your own type of garden inventory, together with developing skills of photography, drawing and computing (as well as gardening) can make this cataloguing activity quite a joyful experience. Please get started. There are many resources including:
Botanica: the illustrated A-Z of over 10,000 garden plants, Graham Ross, Geoff Burnie, 1999
Flora: The gardener’s Bible. Gardening Australia 2 Vols Flora: the 2006., 1584pp
From our book "Australian Gardens Making History" copyright 2010, Kyleigh and
Dr Michael Simpson