Organizing & Documenting *my* Seeds and Plant Info

Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

The subject of using spreadsheets and databases for keeping information about seeds and plants came up in another thread here in the UMG forum. I'm adding my contribution to that discussion here so as not to hijack the other thread. LOL

First a little on the history of the "why" I did it and then I'll show you a bit about the "how" and what the results are.

"Chapter One"
(I'll let you know when my 'chapters' are ready for comment...ok? In the meantime, you can read but please don't post any comments here until I'm finished. LOL I'm "creating" and can't be disturbed. HAHAHAHA)

'Chapter One'
Gardening is not a recent addiction for me, I loved flowers and gardens all my life. But it was only after a 'forced' retirement that I found myself with time enough to actually get into it. With the circumstances being that I'm too old to make the same mistake more than twice (LOL) I needed to keep track of gardens. That meant I wanted to know what plants and/or seeds I'd tried to grow, where I got them, what specific needs they had and how could get *more* of them in the future?

I started out by trying to keep paper notes, then I tried paper notes in an electronic form. I tried desperately to locate a commercially available gardening planning/planting/plant info piece of software. I bought several and each time I opened them and tried working with them I got frustrated. All I could think was "This is SO lame...if I had written this, I would have made it so and so...(easier to use/have better or more complete info/ give the user more options to change field or add field names/ and make it simple to add photos)."

I'd been working with databases in my old job for 20 years...(Yes, Stacy...that means I go back to the age of D=dinosaurs, DOS and Dbase! LMBO). I didn't really *want* to sit back down at my desk for the all the hours I knew it would take to write the program but I kept thinking how much *easier* it would be on me if I had the ability to search records and filter them according to my current curiosity.

Finally, last winter - after spending a LOT more money than I care to admit, I sat down, wrapped my head around the project and developed a user interface that fit *my* needs and *my* level of gardening expertise. In other words, I built my own *house*. hehehe

With that said, I have to give credit where credit is due. NO house is built entirely without building upon the efforts or *knowledge* of others. My house was built on the work of Tom Clothier and his "Germination Tables".

Before I began thinking in terms of developing my own database system, I used Tom's gracious offer to download his database. (You can find that resource here: ) From there I put my brain to work, imported his info into a flat database table in MS Office's database 'Access'. (Note: 'Access' is a part of MS Office but usually isn't bundled in the Office package and has to be purchased seperately in most cases.)

It didn't take me long to realize that I had more information that I needed/wanted access to than Tom had included in his, basically, seed germination database. Little by little I added more 'stuff', made the user 'front end' friendlier and based more on the way *I* liked to use a database. I wanted pictures, web links, space to write my own notes, I wanted to know if....well...I wanted the most *complete* source of information I could come up with.

Results of the endeavors will be added a bit later.

~end of Chapter One~

~Beginning to write Chapter Two - The difference between a Spreadsheet and a Database ~

Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Chapter Two
~The difference between a Spreadsheet and a Database~

A couple of people have asked what the difference is between a spreadsheet and a database.


The difference for me is that I *hate* working spreadsheets! I've seen a lot of people who use spreadsheets to keep their records but I've figured out how to make them behave the way *I* want them too. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to rearrange info in a spreadsheet (Using commands similar to those I'd use in a database) only to find that I'd completely and totally destroyed the structure and voided ALL connecting information. ("Aw GEEZ...I *did* it again!" All to often!)

Anyway, without going into the "technical" differences between the two, I'm just going to say that at the very beginning of my 'real world' job of keeping an enormous number of records documenting manufacturing projects (Vendors, purchase orders sent, rec'd, invoices processed and paid), and not having a corporate office to guide me, I had no choice but to learn to do *something* that made my 'one woman' office run the best it could. And still give corporate the information *they* needed.

A database was the only thing I about at the time. And besides, spreadsheets reminded me of numbers (accounting :-O), and numbers scared me to death! LOL So I never bothered to LEARN how they worked or why.

~that's the end of THAT~

~writing Chapter Three - The Screen Captures~

Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

(C3-section one - The opening screen)
When I open my database, I have a 'switchboard' screen where I can choose which area of the database I want to work in. (I have a part of the database that alows me to enter an index of sorts for magazine articles, tv shows, and other info I collect). Most of the time, I go directly into my plant database main form. This is what I see:

(C3-s2 in process)

Thumbnail by julie88
Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

This screen is the first record of my entire's the one that lets me stay cool and collected and presents me with little more than the basic structure and a few hints of what info I want to enter or what I'll see when I get to the plant/seed I'm recording or looking up.

Database opening screen:
(C3-s3 in progress)

Thumbnail by julie88
Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

I haven't mentioned it yet, but there is a system of "Tabs" to the right of the plant photo...each tab holds a different type of infomation.
jsr notes = My own notes on what I consider "important" or "Must see"
General Info = All the specifics (zone hardiness, exposure, etc)
Prop-Seeds = Tom's Germination tables, mostly
Prop-Other = Other methods of propagation for THIS plant
Abbreviations = My code key for various fields
Suppliers = Web Links for vendors
Info Links = Web links for *really* good gardening info
TBA = To be announced (Just another way iof saying "Im not done yet" LOL

C3-S3 ~The General Info Tab~
Here's is the infomation available to me for this particular Achillea cultivar.

(C3-S4 in process)

Thumbnail by julie88
Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

C3-S4 ~ "Prop - Seeds" Tab

On this tab I find (mainly) the info I imported from Tom Clothier's database, with a few little extras of my own. (You'll also notice that I have left programing notes to myself. hehehe) Plus, there's a working link on this tab that takes me directly to TC's web site so I can get to his other articles and information quickly and easily.

(C3-S5 in progress)

Thumbnail by julie88
Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

C3-S5 ~ "Prop - Other" Tab

If I had info on various methods of propagation other than by seeds, I'd enter it on this tab.

(C3-S6 ~"Info Links" Tab in progress)

Thumbnail by julie88
Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

C3-S6 ~"Info Links" Tab

This the tab where I "store" my most used resouces for plant and gardening information.

Thumbnail by julie88
Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

OK...Now, I'm finished with the uploads I wanted to keep together in sequence without much in the way of comments from myself or (hopefully) you guys. LOL

I'm going back now to edit out all the "in progress" remarks and will come back to add the "Chapter 4 ~ "What I can do with my database information that makes it worth the time and effort".

NOW, I'll let you have at it. LOL


Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Reserved for CHAPTER 4


Merrimac, WI(Zone 4b)


This is great! I haven't had time to really look at it carefully, but I sure will.


Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Jody...glad you came in...and thanks bunches!

Long Island, NY(Zone 6b)

way cool - Gave me some wonderful ideas! I love it. I can also tell it took alot of time. How long did it take you? Now, you mentioned that you downloaded Tom's db..but it wasn't like this? What you are showing us is your 'baby', correct?

Orangeville, ON(Zone 4b)

Looks and brains! Do you have any idea how dangerous you are? LOL!!
You are so organized and well, you got me impressed! I'd be mighty embarrassed to show you my note-keeping; a binder with a bunch of scrawled info.

Awaiting chapter 4!


Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Anita, Thank you! I hope I *did* offer some good ideas with my database. your question about basing my database on Tom Clothier's material.

If you download one of those databases on Clothier's site, you'll get *all* the seed starting info. (That's where the info you see in the pic in part C3-S4 post above came from.) I think he has two versions up there. One is 'comma delineated' and I *think* he has one that will import into the MS 'Works' software...but don't quote me on that. I used the "comma delineated" information and just imported it into a new Access database. At that point, all that my database had in it was a table with the information...and it would look very similar to your Excel spreadsheet.

Yep! What you're seeing is entirely *my* baby. I added the GUI (graphic user interface) because, for me, it was so much easier to "see" the information at a glance. And that "At a glance" characteristic is why I added the "Tab" system feature. I just hate being unable to quickly spot exactly what I'm looking for. At the same time, I don't like being inundated with more info than I need at the moment.

How long did it take me to design and build the application? You've got to kidding! LOL I'm STILL working on it! Seriously, It was up and running in a couple of weeks. But it only took me that long because I wasn't sure what I wanted to *do* with it in the beginning. Stacy will back me up on this, if a person wants a database built they'd better know *what* they want it to do before they start. LOL Otherwise, you'll end up with a lot of mistakes BUILT-IN that can't be easily undone later. (Just ask me HOW I know that! hehehe)

And there's *my* ARIANNE! LOL
You're so funny. "Brains and beauty" HA!! (Ok, so I added the 'beauty' part...I needed a 'lift' today.) And as for being 'dangerous'. LMBO I'm only dangerous to myself...just ask my DH. hehehe

For your information, ANY notes or scribbles that can be rummaged through sometime in the future (and made sense of) are far better than nothing at all. Geez...when I first started taking 'notes' on how long it took Morning glory seeds to germinate in the middle of June, I was using Post-IT notes...and sticking them to anything that stand still. (I'm still finding those notes in the bottoms of cell-pack trays. :-D

Sweetie...I'm not organized...I just like to pretend! LOL And looking inside my database gives a feeling that I *really* do have things under control (but *I* know better! ~evil grin here~)

Chapter 4 will probably come sometime tomorrow, when I have time to "think" again.

Today, I got more cookies baked and packed up, and made two batches of homemade Pizza dough (along with getting a gazillion phone calls, doing regular chores, and fending off the DH trying to get me to finish decorating the Christmas Tree. (I think he's tired of tripping over the boxes I've got strung out all over the place. hehehe)) Yep! Sure...I'm organized. If I were organized, I'd be having *someone ELSE* doing it all for me. :-D


south of Grand Rapid, MI(Zone 5a)

Julie would you jump across the lake and do mine for me???? Pretty things just buffalo me. I write everything in a gardening notebook, but usually lose it and start another one. I have several floating around the house. I'm impressed....

Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Thanks Sarv! That's a special compliment coming from you. (i'm glad you didn't say "jump IN the lake" LOL)


Des Moines, IA(Zone 5a)

Julie thats mighty impressive, with that information you could almost start your own gardening /plant business. Very nice! I'm not even as organized as keeping a 'paper' journel but I think I'll try this summer so my children and grandchildren can see what takes up so much of my time.

Rockford, IL(Zone 4b)

I will back Julie up (as requested) on knowing what you want before you build a database. Since all the tables have to relate to each other, and the forms and fields relate back to the tables, if you don't really think ahead you can end up with a lot of "undoing" to do.

Julie - I'll D-Mail you. I just have to get that database to play with. Fantastic job!!

Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

momof2d...thank you. I've often given thought to doing just that. Having a business working with plants has never seemed like "work" to me. And if I did start a business, the very first thing I'd do is rewrite my database to include modules that would make my paperwork easier.

Stacy...LOL...I kinda thought you'd react that way. LOL And I knew you'd understand all the relational aspects of designing a database like this one. And as for the "undo-ing" (hehehehe) I *never* get around to doing that part! I just live with the extra queries, and reports and scared to delete them for fear I take some necessary links out at the same time. LMBO

Got your D-mail...will answer it now. Oh, and THANKS!!


Totally impressed! Jaw hitting keyboard!

Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Pick it up 'Lib' don't look your best from that angle. LOL

Thanks SO much!


Are you aware that you could program drop down menus in to that? Example would be for sources. Let's say I buy most Tall Pitchers from Sarracenia Northewest but sometimes I buy them from Dangerous Plants. I have seen software where once you add the name of a nursery, you can select if from an alphabetized drop down menu or add a new nursery the next time you add a plant. That's kind of a neat function. I don't know if you would be interested in something like that but it would be cool. Come to think of it, you can use drop down menus for anything from zones to type of plant. I've also seen where one can sort by plants based on their common name or the Latin name or plants beginning with the letter a or plants that flower white or plants that are on a wish list, etc.

I'm not computer literate by any means and can barely fill in the blanks at times so how do I know this... I paid somebody to create a program for me to use. She never finished. She went off and got married and to be quite blunt after looking at what you've created... she wasn't as good or as thorough anyway. Story of my life, I paid for something that is incomplete. I have her work saved to my desktop. If you would like, I could forward it to you and you could see if she came up with anything that might interest you. She did have a drag and drop feature in what she created for photos which was nice. Just D-Mail me your regular e-mail address and it's yours if you even want it.


Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

HI Lauren...yes, I know that drop down menus can be programed into most fields. I didn't use them because I because I wanted the flexibility to enter the info as I wanted it...or even skip entering anything if that's what I chose to do or didn't have time.

The links for the suppliers was one of those "afterthoughts" placed on a tab-card just because I wanted to be able to *know* the links were easily available when I could think of the name of the company or find the danged link in my browser. hehehe

You have D-Mail!


Hey Julie, it's been a few months since I even looked at what she did because... why bother... she never finished but, the fields that had a drop down menu didn't have to be filled if you didn't want to. It was one of those automatic type deals. If you bought say different plants from the same online nursery, you could enter one plant and the information for where you bought it and then by the time you moved on to adding the second plant, you could just click on the online nursery and it would prefill the space. The only time you had to add information was when you purchased from a new source. And, you could leave the field empty if you wanted to just skip adding anything. It was sort of neat because you didn't have to re-fill the name, address, phone number, fax number, url and all the other goodies if you didn't want to because after you did that once you never had to do it again whenever you bought a plant from there. I also liked that feature because I could store info on people who sent me gifts and such. It would have been nice to receive a plant and be able to go right into the file to click on their e-mail address and be able to hyperlink right then and there into my e-mail to send them a thank you. I don't know if she got to the hyperlink to websites or the projection into an e-mail client but she was working on it or had worked on it. I am really totally computer ignorant and all of this is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over my head.

I'm trying to think of anything else she did. Oh yes, she was working on allowing me to change the background field to a color or to a muted soft pastel image. I don't know if she ever got that far.

I'll go and get the application over to you. Heck, use anything you want for yourself because what's there is bought and paid for by me so I don't care. And, it is in Access!

Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Lauren, if the module hasn't been "locked" I can change all those things for you. Don't know for sure if I can put a live link in the drop downs or not...never tried it. And I'm not good at integrating my DBs into feeding other progs (like the email client). But I *can* tell you how to change your color set up if you'd like. (As I said...IF the module hasn't been 'locked')

I'm looking forward to seeing it! Thanks for the offer!


Central, WI(Zone 4a)

O.K.,,,,Now I'm Feeling *Really* Stupid,,,,,,

I'm one of those *Geeks*,,,LOL that Love working with Databases and Spreadsheets. However this is getting Way too organized for me,,,,,ROFLOL,,,,

Now I *Know* why you haven't been around the Garden much lately,,,,you've been working your fingers and brain way too much with this cool database,,,,,it's awesome.

Now I am feeling *Really Guilty* about just winging it and may have to *Try* to organized,,,LOL


Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Uh...what do you mean "Way over your head?" tsk tsk tsk...I don't think so! LOL

Kelly, building up this database was the only way I had of staying sane last winter after I'd finished the Winter Seed Sowing. I'll tell you how bad it really was. DH gave me the entire set of Garden Gate back issues (9 volumes) for Christmas last year. Would you believe that I actually scanned in the indexes for each year and manually entered all but the last 3 into my database? How's that for being bored out of my mind? (I had to stop when I had my cataract surgeries and couldn't see the fine print they still aren't completed.)

About you getting "organized". Are you *sure* you want to *do* that? LOL Organization is highly overrated. :-D

Thanks for the compliment!


Central, WI(Zone 4a)

LOL,,,I'm not sure I Will get organized,,,,,heck, why start now?????ROFLOL

Glad you had both of those projects to keep you going last year. Winters can get pretty long and boring.

I know I can do the DB or SS,,,just not sure if I Want to get that into it right now,,,,have a couple other projects I am into,,,so they may have to wait til next year,,LOL

I'm Organizing my Hosta info,,,,,in a SS,,,and a DB,,,how's that for Nuts??????LOL


Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Which programs are you using? (I find index cards work well. hehehe)


Central, WI(Zone 4a)

LOL,,,,I'm thinking of just going to that,,,,,I'm using Microsoft stuff,,,,haven't worked on it for a while now with Christmas coming,,,I prolly won't remember what I was doing and why when I get back to it,,,LOL

edited 'cause I still can't spell,,,,,,let's just say My Fingers won't cooperate,,,LOL

This message was edited Dec 17, 2005 12:41 PM

Hey Julie,
You have mail.

Thanks for all your offers but quite frankly, I'm not computer literate enough to even understand what you offered me. I'm still trying to figure out what a stand alone module is. Does this say it all?

You geeks out there have fun. I think I'll just wait for a software application to come out that I can buy and don't have to fiddle with. I am just no good at this type of thing and am at the point in my life where there are too many remotes for my tv so I have to give them all to a kid and tell a kid to turn on Discovery or whatever it is I am interested in if I want to watch it. Technology passed me by I'm afraid.

Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)

Kelly, I'm not having trouble with my fingers and my typing...all my mistakes our being caused by the fact I *need* to cut these nails off! LOL

Lauren, I got the mail...I answered your D-mail...and I'm...uh...oooppps can't say *that* on DG. LOL I'll only say that if you paid for what I just saw, are you interested in a bridge? :-Z

I can tell from what I saw exactly what you were looking for in that application. I was really surprised to see how similar yours is to the one I built. The drag and drop feature for the pictures was one of the first things I put into my database. I just loved the idea of finding a picture on my hard drive or (don't tell anyone) borrowing one from the Plant Files until I could take my own and just dragging it to the DB. (A quick note here: Most the DG 'thefts' LOL have now been replaced by ones I've taken myself).

My DB is far from "complete"...I still want to add buttons I can push to get a listing of Winter Sown seeds (arranged by the dates they need to be started and well as alphbetical) or a hard copy of my suppliers names/addresses, etc.

As I've said before, I paid a LOT of money for commercial programs trying to get one I could use easily and that would hold the info I wanted to access. They ALL drove me crazy. But some of them did fill in the gaps for research UNTIL I found DG.

I've even thought of the possibility of selling my structure to some company who could market it. Obviously, that has been put on the back burner. LOL (I'm too busy to even *think* about dealing "people" at this point.)


I got it! The only thing that stands out for me is that it is a read only version. Anything I can do about that? Here's hoping what ever you suggest isn't too difficult or I'm in trouble.

The red background for whether a plant is in the collection or not is hard on the eyes but that was the only thing that I could find that seemed out of place. That is really an excellent application. You done good! Holy Moly great balls of fire. I have no idea how to use it though but I'm liking it.

Eureka, CA

Extremely impressive!!! All I can say is WOW!! And thanks too for the link to Tom Clothier's site. Very good information.


Muscoda, WI(Zone 4b)


Here's hoping what ever you suggest isn't too difficult or I'm in trouble.

Ok...I suggest that you ask your husband to go into the properties of the file and uncheck the "read only" only. (And those colors were put in there because they were the only ones *I* noticed. hehehe

Thank you Sanna! I appreciate that. And I'm happy the TOm Clothier site is helpful to you.


Ok...I suggest that you ask your husband to go into the properties of the file and uncheck the "read only" only.

My computer IQ is about 60 which is considerably lower than room temperature on a warm day ;) I'll have one of the kids go into the properties for me and fix me up. You know something Julie... one of these days I'm going to learn how to turn on my own tv and get it to the Discovery or HGTV all by myself! Don't be holding your breath or anything waiting for that day though.

Central, WI(Zone 4a)

Eq,,,,,LOL know how you feel,,,I used to be able to take something out of the box and just use it,,,,now, I have to read the directions,,,LOL I remember as a kid thinking Jeez,,,adults are so stupid,,,LOL,,,now I Know I am. I guess the above average results of the last IQ test I took didn't include gadgets of the technological kind,,,,ROFLOL


So, you feel my pain? Ha ha ha, woe is me. I used to be embarrassed. Now I don't care. Almost everything seems to come with an owners manual these days. I have a brand new digital camera right now that I can't use that is supposed to be able to take micro and macro shots and I keep meaning to find the owners manual that I took out of the box to read so I could use the camera. What an idiot I am. I'm sure I'll find the manual sooner or later but until then... my brand new camera is sitting in the box. That's the pits.

You know what's funny, the only thing that doesn't come with an owners manual that really should come with one is a kid. They come with titles (birth certificates) just like a car does but no owner's manuals. You'd think they'd tuck a little "How To" manual in the diaper or something but noooooooo, they leave us to our own devices.

Central, WI(Zone 4a)


LOL,,,yes, I feel your pain,,,,,,I have a pretty snappy Amateur Professional Digital Camera,,,I Still haven't figured out how to do all the things it's supposed to do,,,,haven't taken time to sit and read through the book,,,LOL I just use the Auto setting,,,it must have at least12 more settings and a whole lot of other snappy *things*,,,oh well, one of these days


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