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How to capture the signs of spring with a garden photo diary

Can you feel it? Spring is in the air. Although winter technically doesn’t end until the spring equinox on March 20, it truly feels like the world is waking up from its slumber. On my morning walks to work, I’ve been noticing lots of flowers: snowdrops, crocuses, forsythia, viburnum, hellebores, camellias, daffodils, and, perhaps the most exciting sign of spring in Vancouver, the first of the cherry blossoms.

We still have lots of rainy days ahead. Mild storms are a distinct possibility this time of year. But there are also moments when the sun breaks out with surprising intensity. It’s at this time, when the world seems so fresh with possibility, that I love going outside with my camera.

Keeping track of the changing seasons is a passion of mine. As someone who spends most of my waking hours in front of a computer, it can be all too easy to get disconnected from nature. Intentionally spending time outdoors, and observing what’s happening in the natural world, gives me an instant boost of energy and contentment. Plants are incredibly sensitive to minute changes in the length of the day and to fluctuations in temperature. I believe that we are subject to these changes as well; we just don’t realize it.

As a gardener, keeping track of my environment is a practical necessity. Over the years, I’ve learned that when the forsythia is in full bloom, it’s time to start planting my tomato seeds. When the dogwoods are in full bloom, it’s time to transplant my tomato seedlings outdoors. These signs are actually much more accurate than going by a calendar alone.

Kale and garlic in our early March garden. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

Keeping a garden photo diary

Every time I work in my garden, I take photos. Lots of photos. Sometimes they are of entire garden beds; sometimes they are a close-up of a blueberry plant in full fruit. Taking these photos is more than just fun. It creates a vital record. When did our arugula first sprout last year? When did we harvest our redcurrants? What were the differences between our garden last year and this year? Photos record the progression of our constantly changing space. Some of the ways I use photos as a gardener include:

  • As a reference point to plan our garden. Photos allow me to instantly remember what I planted where last year, so that I can make changes for this year.
  • As a way to tracks successes, and things that weren’t so successful. Planting lettuce under our tomatoes worked out very well last year, but planting lettuce under kale, not so much. Photos give me a reminder about how our experiments work out.
  • As a way to remember specific techniques, designs and innovations. With last year’s drought, we installed an irrigation system and used mulch and Oyas, all for the first time. Photos help me to remember how it was all laid out.
  • As a record of climate and weather changes. With last year’s heat, strawberries and blueberries bloomed early and had a short, intense season. Some cool-season crops that did extremely well two years ago, such as scallions and spinach, barely produced last year, while others, like basil and cucumbers, had their best season ever. Photos also allow me to take note of changing bloom times in our garden and neighbourhood.
  • As a way to take note of how other people are growing their gardens. I’m not above snapping a picture of a neighbour’s gorgeous yard, or a thriving community garden plot, for my own personal reference and inspiration.
  • As a record of our harvests. I love arranging our harvests on our wooden patio and taking pictures of them. It creates an instant record of what we’re actually eating from the garden and the changes over the course of a season.
  • As a way to share our garden experience online. I share photos of our garden on Facebook. At first, I wasn’t sure if my friends would appreciate my constant updates, but it turns out that people really enjoy seeing what we’re growing.

There was once a time when I would create numerous complicated charts to plan and track our garden. But it wasn’t fun or sustainable to write constant notes and update spreadsheets. Now, I find that my camera does a lot of this work for me – in a simple, joyous way.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and board member of the Environmental Youth Alliance. Join her on Roundhouse Radio 98.3 FM every Tuesday afternoon at 5:00pm for Fabulous Urban Gardens. She blogs about urban food gardening at

Join me this spring for Urban Garden Abundance, a four-part gardening class in Vancouver hosted by Hollyhock.

One of our 2015 harvests. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

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