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Reflecting on the Importance of a Victory Gardener’s Personal Style

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.

10 comments
  1. William Furr

    Personally, I would love to have a fairly detailed program to follow, especially to start with. I’ve never gardened before, and I’m a little intimidated by the amount of knowledge I need to gain to be effective at it. I’m also busy with lots of other stuff, too, so the amount of time I have to spend on gardening is limited.

    In much the same way, I’ve been far more effective at the gym over the past nine months since I started using a detailed laid-out workout program instead of playing it by ear.

    Different strokes for different folks. :) I tend to be organized and like planning before just diving in.

  2. Pamela Price

    Oh, and if anyone is interested…Michael Abelman’s gorgeous “Fields of Plenty: A Farmer’s Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It” has a chapter, “Outlaws,” about Bob Cannard’s Sonoma County farm where weeds are prevalent. It’s a wonderful chapter about organic farming with authentic style!

    Oh, and who is one of Cannard’s biggest fans? None other than Alice Waters.

  3. Robin Shreeves

    Pamela – I think we live in the same house and drive the same car.

    This was my first year planting a garden. When we started planning it last winter after I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I hadn’t thought of it being a modern day Victory Garden, but over this summer I have begun to see how it is one.

    There is no rhyme or reason to my garden. I just planted what I wanted to eat and herbs that I use often. After the critters got done devouring everything they chose to, I’ve ended up with what is now an Italian garden – tomatoes, green peppers, basil, parsley, and oregano. I’d like my beans, carrots, eggplant and various herbs that the critters got back, but you know what – they left me just the right combo of ingredients to make awesome pasta sauce and pesto.

    I’m with you – I’m savoring the process (and the pasta sauce). I dove right in without knowing much and treated it as a learning process. It’s been fun.

    Since my garden isn’t our only source of food, I’ve chosen to just be happy with what is there, study up a little on natural critter prevention for next year, and eat a lot of pasta.

    William – I would say to you that you don’t need a lot of knowledge to start. Start with what you know grows well in your area. I’m from New Jersey so of course, I chose tomatoes as my main crop. I did a little reading, got a lot of compost and organic feed, and let nature take its course.

  4. Heather

    Don’t forget– plenty of flowers are edible. & those that are not may still draw beneficial insects to help pollinate your other goodies.
    I’m a fan of wild flowers & a little chaos– the more it looks like nature put it there with only a little help from me, the more I like it :)

  5. GarlicMan76458

    William,

    I was a programmer and project manager for 30 yrs. I am a type “B” planner. However, I have learned in the last few yrs to “just do it”. Just get started with something like Robin says. Have fun. Oh, and for help in your area, join FreedomGardens.org.

    Sincerely,
    GarlicMan76458 on http://www.FreedomGardens.org

  6. Pamela Price

    FreedomGardens.org IS a great resource–and a truly gorgeous site. Actually, it’s part of an exemplary web ring of sites by the Dervaes family, true urban pioneers out in California.

    Thanks for recommending them, GarlicMan! Much appreciated.

  7. Rachel

    I’m totally an improv gardener as well, Pamela. I have limited space, some of which is given over to already-established bushes that I can’t get rid of (per agreement with the husband). So basically, I google, I find ideas I like, plant seeds of things I want to eat and, well, go from there. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m always learning and always surprised.

    When the time comes that I get a big garden space and start fresh, I do think I’m going to use the No Dig Garden approach, because it sounds logical to me. Aside from that, the only thing I’m really disciplined about is being sustainable and running a water-efficient garden.

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