Guest contributor Pamela Price is the founder of Red, White & Grew, a blog devoted to “Promoting the Victory Garden Revival and other simple, earth-friendly endeavors as bipartisan, patriotic acts in an age of uncertainty.”
Rummaging through old WWII-era Victory Garden pamphlets online earlier this week, I was struck again by how dry and formulaic the advice was. Often, gardeners of the day were told to create a space of a certain size and plant a specific combination of plants.
Granted, there was a sense of urgency that left little room for error: a national food shortage was a very real possibility. Homegrown produce was needed to supplement rations, so it was not an ideal time for experimenting with novelty produce items or unfamiliar techniques.
Meanwhile, a great number of people–many of whom had never gardened previously–needed quick, efficient solutions in order to participate fully in the national Victory Garden initiative.
Thus, the act of gardening was boiled down to the essentials and propagated via simply-worded brochures issued from a number of sources.
Yet I can’t help wonder: in the long run, was something lost in emphasizing the science over the art of gardening? And I wonder if we want to be so cookie-cutter today in our approaches to educating others about Victory Gardening, especially given what we know today about the critical role different learning styles and personality types play in how we acquire and utilize new information.
Full disclosure: I am not a neat and tidy person. Nor is my garden. Or my yard. Or my house. And my car? Good grief. A nightmare. Repetition, maintenance, detailed tasks…drudgery and order function together as my personal Kryptonite. No surprise then that the idea of a one-size-fits-all garden boilerplate makes me cringe. I learn best through experiment, perhaps to a fault since I sometimes fall prey to whimsy when making choices.
In fact, if you look closely at our tiny Central Texas Victory Garden, you’ll note that a disproportionate amount of space is allocated to flowers. This spring, I planted zinnias reminiscent of the ones my grandfather grew in his sprawling Southeast Texas garden.
Later, I incorporated brilliant-hued Antigua marigolds both with an eye to celebrating Dia de Los Muertos later this year and in honor of my current favorite book, which includes a passage about the author’s elderly relatives growing marigolds right here in San Antonio decades ago. One might say that the flowers help my garden cultivate a powerful sense of place and personal history.
It’s a romantic notion, sure…but no one’s ever subsisted on the “idea of place.”
Yes, my family would starve if we had to rely on that garden for all of our food. Therefore, in preparation for our second year tinkering with the Victory Garden concept, I’m in the process of expanding my knowledge of various growing techniques from a number of sources and with an eye to creating additional space in which to grow more food (and keep the flowers).
For me, the experience of Victory Gardening thus far has been about savoring the process, of tinkering with soil and plant matter to figure out what works in my particular micro-climate. Over the years I’ve come to accept a personality quirk (defect?) of mine: I dive right into things and then edit, re-edit and edit some more. Some call it “flying by the seat of one’s pants.” I prefer the term “improvisation.” For me to stick with something over time, I must allow myself to experiment lest boredom sets in.
Frankly, I know that if I’d resorted to a cut-and-dried garden plan first and followed it verbatim, I’d have given up already. Instead, having followed my own authentic path and respected my personal style, I’m looking forward to more adventures in the coming months and years. At the same time, I’ve learned a great deal about vegetable gardening in this particular region. But that’s just me and my style. So I wonder…
For other gardeners, do you feel that your vegetable garden reflects your personality? Do you think that’s a help or a hindrance to your success? And how might a wider Victory Garden revival benefit from playing to individual differences, if at all?
Photo from author’s private collection.