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Keeping Track of my Plants

An indispensable tool I use every day for gardening ... is a database, on my computer. I wonder how many gardeners are familiar with what a database is? It's sort of like a glorified list. For example, mine lists all the plants I am currently growing, or interested in growing, or have ever grown (1,673, as I write this).

Each item in the list — or “record” in the database — contains a lot of information, organized into little boxes called “fields,” that I defined: one for the common name, one for flower color, one for the height of the plant, one for how much sun it wants, one for where to find more informtion on it .... I’ve defined over sixty fields for the information I want to keep track of on each plant.

Of course all the fields don’t go in one display. They’re assigned to different page layouts. One page format shows the details on one plant at a time, organized into logical groups: for example there's one group in a box labeled "cultivation requirements" and another area for names: common name, botanical family, genus, species, and natural variety or cultivar. Other single-plant pages hold cooking tips, or details on starting seeds.

Another page layout displays a list, with each plant (record) represented by a row of just a few key fields; the fields line up in columns. What good is a list so long? That's where the strengths of a database come in. I don't ever look at the whole list; I tell the program to find the plant or plants I want to look at. At the flick of a couple of fingers I can create a list of plants with bronze leaves. Or blue flowers. Or that are less than a foot tall. Or that fill all those criteria at once.

Searches I make often are automated, so that clicking a “button” I created on the screen assembles a specialized list, for example of which plants I have available to give away.

When I want to find one particular plant, I can search for it by one of its names, or if I can't remember any of them, by distinguishing characteristics. This is so handy for my aging memory, that I wish I had a little waterproof computer I could clip to my belt for all those times I'm walking through the garden with someone, and they ask "what's that?" and the name escapes me.

© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 23 Juily 2004

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