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Posted by on Jul 17, 2013 | 5 comments

Mapping Your Garden with a Nature Journal

Mapping Your Garden with a Nature Journal

When I heard about the Art & Nature series at Huntley Meadows Park, a 1,500 wetland park in Fairfax County, I knew I wanted to try my hand at nature illustration. I also realized I might also solve an ongoing dilemma in my life: To reliably keep track of what I plant in my patio garden. The workshop I attended last week at Del Ray Artisans with Margaret Wohler, staff naturalist and illustrator with Huntley Meadows Park, satisfied both desires.

Margaret began the workshop inside by having us arrange different sorts of leaves and then draw and color in the negative space. The exercise trained our eyes to look at plants in a new way, rather than automatically drawing what we know in our minds to be a leaf.


In this “Tiny Landscape Mandala” workshop, we each received a sketch book, drawing pencil, sharpener, eraser, and watercolor set.


After finishing our warm-up exercise, we went outside with embroidery hoops and encircled  a “tiny landscape” to draw.


Like the 19th century Victorian naturalists, Margaret taught us to write the date, time, temperature, and cloud cover at the top of each page in our journal, as well as to jot notes in the margins about the size of the plants and other characteristics.


Here is a charming sketch from Margaret’s own nature journal.


When I came home, I started using my new skills to map my garden. I’m drawing individual sections on each page going around the perimeter of my patio little by little. It takes time, but time I thoroughly enjoy in the act of drawing and painting.



Now, instead of mislaying my list of plants, I have the skills to journal and sketch my garden throughout the years, keeping the illustrations and notes in their own dedicated sketch book. You don’t have to be an artist to keep a nature journal either. Instead of mostly drawings, you could do more writing and explanation about what you observe – both in your garden and out in the larger world.


If you want to learn nature journaling and illustration from Margaret, you can sign up for one her Art & Nature classes, which includes a cool dragonfly drawing class, at Huntley Meadows Park. She also teaches children: Katie and I have signed up our oldest children, Jack and Ana, to take her Sketches in Nature workshop in August.


  1. This was a lovely post. We have planted the front of the shop, our window boxes and even up on the deck plus our adopted tree wells at La Cuisine. And even though (sometimes) we keep the tags, a journal would be so much better. Especially one you would illustrate.
    Nancy Pollard

    • Thanks Nancy. I could see using a smaller moleskine for sketching and noting small-scale plantings at the shop.

  2. Thanks so much Leslie! I’m planning on using aspects of this class in my sketching classes at Huntley Meadows Park this summer. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, I’m able to offer every participant a field art kit to keep. I’m offering a child’s class, in addition to an adult class. I hope to get more people interested in nature and art and appreciate DIY Delray’s help!

    • We can’t wait for the kids class in August!

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