Creating a Digital Garden in Obsidian

Small seedlings in pots.

Today let’s talk about digital gardening in Obsidian. Have you heard the phrase “digital garden” before?

The idea of digital gardening has been around since at least 1998, but it didn’t start to take off until recently.

This is undoubtedly due to the fact that digital gardens used to require a certain type of expertise. They were typically custom-built on obscure technologies, there was no out-of-the-box way to build your own digital garden.

But all of that has changed now! It’s never been easier to create your own (public or private) digital garden in Obsidian.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you aren’t familiar with the term then you’re probably wondering: what is a digital garden?

What is a digital garden?

You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind… All you have to do is think, and they’ll grow. – Fred Rogers

Digital gardening is a note-taking philosophy. It’s meant to be a more casual and effortless experience, rather than a strenuous one. It’s also sometimes called “Learning in Public”.

Digital gardening involves planting seeds in the “garden of your mind”, and allowing them to grow over time. Of course, your garden also has to exist outside of your mind, or it wouldn’t be “digital”.

The way I see it, these are the most important principles of digital gardening:

  • Digital gardens are about exploring and not explaining
  • Digital gardens are link-based, not time based
  • Digital gardens are constantly growing, changing, and evolving
  • Digital gardens are imperfect and experimental

Contrast this with a typical blog. Blogs are often the opposite of a garden: posts are published on a certain date, and the content on a blog immediately starts to expire. Blog posts rarely change, authors attempt to make articles as perfect as possible on the publish date, and they are explanatory.

Digital gardens are a way to take the pressure out of writing. Instead of working dozens of hours on a blog post, you can add a quick note to the garden. And as long as you have the right systems in place, you can trust that you will get back to that note and develop it later.

What type of note-taker are you?

Digital gardens are not for everyone. Public digital gardens, even less so.

If you are aghast at the idea non-linear organically grown notes, then you may not be a gardener. Some say there are three types of note takers:

  • The architect
  • The gardener
  • The librarian

For the architect and librarian, gardening might not be the right fit. Keep that in mind as you continue reading: gardening is not for everyone, and your mileage may vary.

How to plant your first digital garden in Obsidian

Starting a garden is easy. Obsidian makes it effortless to create and maintain a digital garden. Check out our beginner’s guide to Obsidian if you’re new to this software.

Obsidian has a number of good tools for gardening, but depending on the type of garden we’re growing, we may want to build some of our own tools.

Now, due to the nature of gardening, everyone’s garden is going to look a bit different. But remember the principles that we talked about above: digital gardening in Obsidian doesn’t require perfection, it only requires time and attention.

Planting a seedling

In Obsidian, create a note. It can be about anything, but since you are currently reading an article about digital gardening, I would suggest you make it about that. Take one of your takeaways from this article, and create a “seedling”. It might look something like this:

Digital Gardening is not about perfection

Unlike blogs, notes in your digital garden are meant to grow and change over time, they are not meant to be perfect.

That’s a good start! Of course there are no links just yet, but we can change that easily enough. If this was my seedling, I would immediately want to link “Digital garden” to its own note. In Obsidian, all we have to do is add square brackets and that will create a link:

Digital Gardening is not about perfection

Unlike blogs, notes in your [[digital garden]] are meant to grow and change over time, they are not meant to be perfect.

Then you can click the link to create a new note, and write your thoughts on digital gardens in this “parent note”:

Digital Garden

Digital gardens are interesting. [[Digital Gardening is not about perfection]].

And just like that, we have a very small seed that is ready to grow into a digital garden!

Helping your notes to grow over time

This is a great start to digital gardening. And you could keep your system this simple, and allow your notes to grow completely organically. Some notes may “go to seed” and you will forget about them over time, but hey. Digital gardening is not about perfection.

I find that, while I’m not worried about perfection in my gardening efforts, I do like to add a little more structure to my garden. What does that look like?

In my case, I use tags. I like to “rank” my notes based on how developed they are. The tags I use are:

  • 🪴weedy
  • 🌱Seedling
  • 🌿Budding
  • 🌲Evergreen

Whenever I plant a new note in my vault, I have a template that automatically applies the “weedy” tag, because most notes coming into my vault are rough at first. But over time, as my note continues to evolve and grow, I convert it to a seedling, then budding, and finally the coveted Evergreen note.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I create a digital garden?

Digital gardening is not for everyone. But if you forget things easily, if you like to take notes but struggle with organizing them, or if you’d rather spend more time creating instead of consuming, a digital garden may be helpful for you.

On the other hand, if you hate writing, don’t care about storing your knowledge, or are looking for more entertainment, perhaps gardening is not for you.

What should I put in my garden?

Anything that interests you. Just make sure you are interested before you plant a new note in your garden, because no one is going to weed your garden for you. This is an important point: if it doesn’t interest you, don’t plant it. If it does interest you and you want to learn more about it, then put it in your garden, and it will naturally grow over time.

Can I see some other people’s gardens?

Sure. Some of my personal favorites are:

Do I have to publish my garden?

No! You don’t have to garden in public. Private gardens can be every bit as useful as public ones. More so, perhaps.

The decision is entirely up to you: if you want to publish your garden, then feel free to do so. You’ll be in good company, you can see examples of public gardens in this article on home notes.

If you decide to publish your digital garden, there are many ways to do so. But one of the easiest ways is to use Obsidian Publish, which is custom-built for publishing digital gardens built in Obsidian.

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