Abstract To date, solicited diaries have been relatively neglected as a social science research method. This is particularly true within the field of health research. Yet, these narrative approaches can provide invaluable insights into the health behaviours of individuals and how these are played out across time and space. To illustrate this, we draw on recent research in the north west of England that investigated the potential benefits of communal gardening as opposed to other social activities in maintaining the health and emotional well-being of older people. As part of a wider study using largely qualitative techniques, our analysis revealed that, contrary to the findings of earlier studies, diaries can be used effectively over relatively long periods of time and are equally effective in exploring health issues amongst both older men and women. With the benefit of good researcher support, we argue that diary techniques can offer some unique insights into the ongoing health routines and coping strategies of older people and can prove invaluable in uncovering those, often hidden, aspects of their daily lives and routines that impact on their health histories. Through the gathering of chronologically organised data about daily activities, diaries can act as both a record and reflection of the health experiences, activities and life-worlds inhabited by older people.