Growth and change are key aspects of garden design, making a chronological analysis necessary. This can be done by preparing a set of plans and notes. For a garden made in the last century this may include:
A hand-drawn map with a hand-written key is a paper-based geographical information system. Interlinking with notes adds another dimension.
The next step towards a more sophisticated system is to use a computer database programme. They are free (eg MySQL) or inexpensive and do not require a large investment in equipment or training. Information in a non-spatial database can be imported into a spatial database (GIS) at a later date. One can prepare for this move by allocating reference numbers to garden features, or plants, and providing information associated to the reference point in the database.
In the case of larger and older gardens which have undergone many changes, more map layers are necessary. The task of relating plants and features to the periods when they appeared, changed and, perhaps, disappeared can be very complicated. It is in dealing with such problems that the superiority of computer-based geographical information systems becomes inescapable. One has to bite the bullet and tool up for the task.