Garden (and others’) Note Book(s)

With this new garden I have decided to try to be systematic. I somehow know it will not last but it’s worth a try.
So I have started to keep a list of the plants already in the garden and the plants/seeds I buy. I would like to think I will carefully note their position, their progress, what I feed them with, cropping yields, (there’s optimism for you).. and of course bee attractivness etc

So I looked around for a notebook. I think I’ve mentioned before my aversion to new note books or sketchbooks and so the part-used old notebook tucked into the seed box at Dad’s house seemed both apt and appealing.
It’s a small 6 x 3 3/4 inch blue hardback with a grey cloth spine.
One of those anonymous note books without a makers name which you used to find in the old fashioned stationers.  A great size to put in your pocket.

the book bg

At the front there are a few pages of notes from a holiday in Madeira.
Mum has noted the children running home from school, Dad has made lists of costs.
At the back are notes detailing “Good Local Walks”, plant lists and plans for the garden i.e., “move white potentilla to west fenceeliminate wild onion weeds” (sorry Mum,  I know they are still there). The earliest entry is 1987 and notes have been made by both Mum and Dad.

Mum and Dad’s notes: A list of plants and a page entitled “Spring 1998, after a long (cold) dry winter” with an enigmatic small end board sketch of something measuring 8 x17 x10 inches.  

My first notes in the book with sketches of the garden.

my notes bg

As I was entering my first list, “Plants I Have”, I was also listening to the radio, to the fascinating BBC’s History of the Written World.

Melvyn Bragg was discussing how important writing was and possibly still is, to science. “how the invention of writing made the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment possible “ and how the note books of scientists were key in the processing, recording and passing on of information and ideas.

They were discussing Newton’s 1665 notes made in his twenties, of an experiment on his own eye which involved pushing a bodkin in between the eyeball and the bone and changing the shape of the eye.
On the BBC website there is Newton’s page …how wonderful. Isn’t the potency of the handwritten note and drawing extraordinary?
Even looking at this image on a computer screen sends a shiver up my spine. Prof Simon Schaffer describes the note books as “paper laboratories”  a marvellous description.


The text reads

“I took a bodkin and put it between my eye and the bone as near to the backside of my eye as I could: & pressing my eye with the end of it there appeared several white, dark and coloured circles.”

You can listen to all of “The Written World”  episodes on BBC Iplayer.

I can’t, unfortunately, make a comparison between the content of these notebooks, I can only find a comforting similarity in practice. Newton used both ends of his notebooks.. as did my parents.

My own inconsistency is so great that I use note books randomly, middle, end, upside down and sideways.. but there is very seldom anything on the first page.
I shudder to think what that might signify. The University of Cambridge is making  Newton’s Papers available online see here for a wonderful, absorbing and humbling look at the work of an exceptional man.

There is, delightfully, a wealth of other inspirational notebooks on line. Here is Darwin’s famous “tree” from his Notebook B.


This note and sketch “depicts the branching system of descent with modification which he realized could explain the relationship between different species in the same class or family.”  from Darwin Online.

And one of Leonardo’s notebook pages from the British Libraries, Turning The Pages site  where you can view manuscripts and note books from composers writers and artists etc.


This page is from around 1508 “This double page forms a single sheet containing notes and diagrams relating to balances and weights, with a sketch of a cockleshell in the margin”

Hmm…nice sketch.

I embrace the internet and computers for all the wonderful things they have made possible, especially enabling me to access these fabulous documents from my desk….but I hope people still continue to jot down their lists and thoughts in notebooks in their own hand and not on the impersonal keyboard.

A world without hand written notes would be an anodyne and soulless place.

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  1. Happy New Year 🙂 Loved this blog and I think my kids will have to have a bonfire of all my notebooks, they keep following me, I can´t throw them away, what anyone else might make of my ramblings…..mmmmm…probably deduce a nutcase 🙂 Love to you both xx

  2. I was thinking about Kindles and ebooks. Someone had a recent post up about a second-hand book, filled with the most wonderful notes about gardening, with a poem. How soulless indeed the ebook version.

  3. finding old note books makes me feel guilty for the stop-start proof of my butterfly nature. Tend to rip out the past and start anew but this has made me see the importance of continuity…even with breaks. Love your blog, sketches and posts and hope Cambs is a good place to settle…for now

  4. I loved your Mum and Dads notebook. I've got copies of my (now no longer with us) neighbours wildlife notebooks. They are amazing (although hard to read!). I've just discovered that my iPad has an amazing app that is called Notebook and lets you physically write and draw with a stylus. Now I've not only got "real notebooks" I've now got digital ones I can "search" and index. So somewhere in-between the old type and the new. OK, perhaps I'm just too much of a techie. Sorry!

  5. I was just thinking, after reading your last post, how fun it might be for you to keep a notebook just like this, chronicling all the relics and vestiges and surprises you discover in your first year, and how you transform it all…then leave the notebook, hidden in some nook or crevice, for the next dweller to find. As if you are taking up a history, adding your own, then letting it go. But I love your version, taking your parents' unfinished notebook and making it your own. What a treasure you have in creating another link in your family's chain of hand-written history.
    Cheers! 🙂

  6. Hi all.. and thanks for your comments.
    Moonsword : I think its a wonderful idea, especially to hide it..its just hard ( I find) to keep it up. Life is just so hectic at the moment. In the USA I had a very good routine but now life is more complicated! I have never done this before with a notebook of someone elses.It only seems appropriate now both my parents have died..

    EE. I LOVE secondhand books with margin notes too. I love to feel another persons use and ideas. I so appreciate Amazon etc but do miss old bookshops and browsing.

    PP: I am the queen of the stop start!!! but since a catastrophic fire 18 months ago where I lost everything from my past, all my sketch books, note books etc.I have become mre clingy to scraps of paper and written things. It was a sobering lesson.

    Harlee.. chica. you kids must treasure them!..and their children too. I think one of the most poignant things, when we used to run a pine reclaimation business was buying say an old chest of draws and finding letters and postcards .. things without anyone to care aboout them..but having said that, Sister and I are going to have to do some culling at Dads!
    Jane: I am most admiring if you can keep up with written AND digital ones!!Thats awesome!:)..I have subscribed to "Shoot" in an attempt to get my lists organised. Hopeless. I think if I could type my tech life might be less fraught!I am agonisingly slow!Looking forward to seeing the notebooks 🙂

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