Garden Record Keeping, Part V
Part V concludes the series on using computer software for garden record keeping. In this final part, three gardeners briefly describe their programs.
I keep a database of rhododendron names, date and place of purchase, location in the garden, parents (for hybrids), subgenus (for species), and notes. Since I have a Macintosh, I use Clarisworks (same as Appleworks). I find that the database format works well for plant records because I can easily set up any categories I want. For example, my rhody list is different from my general perennial list because I added the subgenus category for rhodies when I got curious as to whether our interests were leading us to acquire plants of one type more than others. We were - more neriifloras than I had realized! I can copy blocks of entries from one database to another as long as the categories are arranged in the same sequence (easy to do), or I can re-sequence the categories and sort for a specific category such as location if I want the contents of one bed or area. Adding a category and data for sun or shade tolerance, pruning times or techniques, etc., makes it easy to sort for those characteristics. Adding a pruning category and data for our clematis made it easy to sort and see which ones needed, which type of pruning and when.
I don't know whether there's a comparably easy to manipulate database in the Windows world for PCs. My husband keeps thinking I'm referring to a spreadsheet when I say database. Spreadsheets do calculations and are harder to sort because they're designed to handle numerical data. Databases handle verbal or numerical information but don't calculate.
I like my databases because I'm not locked into someone else's format with unused categories or a lack of a category I want to have, which is the problem I've found with pre-prepared programs. I'm not a very computer literate person - what I'm doing to set up and manipulate the database categories is not difficult or sophisticated. So I'd recommend that people make their own and tailor them to their own needs.
Acting Head Gardener, Exbury Gardens, Hampshire, England
Here at Exbury we have a 200-acre rhododendron garden in the south of England, open to visitors March- November. There are around 20,000 trees, rhododendrons and shrubs here.
Over 10 years from the late 1980s, over 17,000 of the plants in our garden were identified and number tagged with stamped metal plates. They were then entered on to a computer programme called Advanced Revolution (AREV) which acts a bit like the Microsoft Access programme, i.e., you can have several linked data fields. By entering a tag number, the name, description, breeding parents, and location in the garden can be found. The location relates to a large paper map with numbered areas - the garden is split into just over 300 "island" beds or areas between paths.
The data bank was also put on to palm computers for quick access to the information when we are out in the garden, and a numbered list and an alphabetical list was put into Excel for quick basic information. This has been printed out into two fat reference books for staff who don't have computer skills!
We are continuing the recording work, having just had another 1,000 numbered tags stamped ready for an area of the garden which is still awaiting plant identification.
Unfortunately, because AREV was developed some time ago, it is not actually very user-friendly, and is in fact now obsolete. It is based on keyboard commands which I find tedious as I am very mouse-orientated. Also to change the information is quite a complex process, so if for example we want to add or remove plants from the records, or update the descriptions, it is a time-consuming job which means the records are rarely bang up to date.
I am therefore hoping to eventually change over to Microsoft Access, with which I am familiar. It is perfectly possible to transfer the whole data bank across to the new programme, and it can also be linked to GPS.
In an ideal world I would also love to have a photo of each plant in flower, and all the information to be available on our website, and also for visitors to access with touch screens in the garden visitor centre. Well, I can dream!
I should be interested to hear what programmes other users have found successful. I have not investigated any others as yet and am only thinking of going for Access because I find it fairly easy to use.
The computer program I use is Quatro Pro but Excel would work equally as well. I enter the name, color, month it blooms and size. Sometimes I add anything extra I might want to know - fragrance?, azalea, etc. The nice thing about this type of program is the capability to sort by different parameters. I have used it to try to find the name of a rhody for which I have lost the tag. I can sort by month of bloom and then check all the names for that color and I can usually find the name. It has worked very well for me. The down side of it is that I don't always remember to delete the ones that die. So I can never say for 100 percent that the list is always accurate. But it is pretty close.