By Donna Nesbit, Grayson County Master Gardener
During this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are trying to come up with ways of staying safe and healthy. Among those ideas being batted around is the Victory Garden. During WWI and WWII, almost every home had a Victory Garden. This garden was so named because its purpose was to help give the United States victory in time of war. If every household had a garden, then more food would be available for the troops. The Victory Garden was every household’s method of dealing with a large problem in a small way.
Going back to now, people began to panic when the produce section of their local grocer was denuded. The idea of staying at home and not having food available resulted in many people over-buying many products. Of the products being purchased, fresh dairy, meat, fruit, and vegetables were the most problematic. Even with a refrigerator, most items, especially produce, have a limited shelf-life. Some of it will only last a few days at best, and most of it will last less than a month. Even with a freezer, much of it will not keep because it does not freeze well. So, what’s the solution, canned or freeze-dried goods or maybe just packaged goods like powdered milk and cereal. Such a limited selection soon turns unpalatable to many. The best way to have fresh produce available for most people is to grow their own. Hence, the upsurge of the new Victory Garden. Again, the Victory Garden can be a household’s method of dealing with a large problem in a small way.
Another way the new Victory Garden is being used is to combat uncontrolled climate change. Normally, climate changes slowly allowing plants, animals, and humans to react slowly. Starting with the Industrial Revolution more carbon products have been released into the atmosphere .As the climate began its most recent change, the increased carbon has increased the speed with which this change is happening. Because our climate is changing, having diverse plants in the garden can help with new insects or diseases that move into the garden. Also, plants from warmer zones may now be grown in a garden. Drainage in the garden will need to be addressed with the increased rainfall. In addition, using mulch to protect against extremes of temperature is almost a must in today’s climate. Many organizations are now touting Victory Gardens as a method of change. Once again, the Victory Garden can be a household’s method of dealing with a large problem in a small way.
One change in this new Victory Garden is the interspersal of edible and aesthetic plants. Such themes as Food Forests and Cottage Gardens are old concepts being reintroduced in new ways of landscaping. In the Food Forest, gardens are planted as natural forests would grow with trees bearing fruits and nuts as well as providing shade and protection interspersed with shrubs and perennials that also can provide food, but which also provide nutrients for the soil and beauty for the observer. In the sunny areas of a Food Forest, the annual vegetable and flowering plants are sown. All areas of the Food Forest interact with each other as well as providing food for the gardener.
Cottage gardens are modelled after the English Cottage Garden from the Victorian era. Food crops such as cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, and other annual plants are interspersed in the flower beds with the medicinal, herb, and flowering perennials such as Coneflower (Echinacea) and Spearmint (Menthol) for medicinal use, Thyme, Rosemary, and other herbs for culinary use, and Salvias and Phlox for their beauty as cut flowers in the home. Of course, many of these plants can be used in multiple situations.
Whether planting a Food Forest, a Victorian Cottage Garden, or a more Traditional or New Age Garden, the use of natives is being promoted. Natives are adapted to the climate where they grow naturally, and thus use less water, fertilizer, and maintenance. As people become more informed about native plants, they find that many of the “wildflowers” can also be used medicinally or as food. However, it is cautioned that one does not use them without first knowing more about the plant itself. Some plants can cause serious problems if ingested either as a food or tea. One good thing is that more classes are becoming available for individuals who are interested in learning more about growing and foraging native plants. Groups such as Native Plant Society of Texas or AgriLife Master Gardener or Master Naturalist groups can give information on plants.
One of the good things about a Victory Garden is the ability to mix native and introduced plants in the same area. Planting Basil from Europe next to Tomatoes from America is common in such gardens. Using Pecan trees from Texas next to Apples from Indiana can give a very good Apple Strudel. Lists from many gardening books or groups such as AgriLife Master Gardeners can help the new gardener find the best selection of food and flowering crops for their local gardens. The AgriLife Bookstore (https://www.agrilifebookstore.org/) has free downloadable pamphlets to help every gardener. For the beginner or veteran gardener, the Easy Gardening series gives tips on selecting and growing many vegetables for the garden. Other pamphlets deal with fruit or nut trees, berries, perennials, and many more topics. Also, gardening books such as The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith and The Vegetable Book by Sam Cotner are good resources for gardeners of all levels.
With the pandemic in mind, a Victory Garden is a good way to stay home and stay healthy while helping keep food on the table and slowing climate change. Whether using the age-old method of Food Forest, the Cottage Garden from the Victorian Period, or the New Age garden, providing food for the table from the garden in the yard is a satisfying experience. As we face an uncertain future, the Victory Garden should be every household’s method of dealing with a large problem in a small way.
Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone 903-813-4204, our web page txmg.org/grayson, or our Facebook group.