Victory gardens – a global renaissance?

Victory gardens were not even on my radar one month ago. In fact I had absolutely no idea what they were or that they had existed. I did however find myself out on my balcony garden more than ever before. A pandemic will do that to you!

I decided it was time to get my Autumn/Winter garden underway and hopped online to buy some seeds… which is when I found out the entire world was also looking to buy seeds. There were none available from anyone anywhere. Like, not one packet of seeds.

That made me research ‘crisis gardening’, because clearly that was happening. This was where I came across the victory gardens of World Wars one and two. A very interesting little piece of our history indeed.

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Victory gardens poster used during World War One

What were victory gardens?

These gardens contained vegetables, herbs and fruit, and their planting was encouraged by several governments across the globe. We had them in Australia, but they were also found in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany too.

The gardens were grown in backyards, front yards, and public parks, and were used for two main purposes. To supplement family rations and to boost morale during wartime. They had the added benefit of reducing pressure on the food supply chain too.

And if we consider that food was scarce during wartime, it makes sense that they’d use all available space to grow it.

Have you ever been completely stressed out, then spent a little time gardening? The calm that brings the mind is second to none. That alone makes it easy to understand why it was a morale booster at the time.

Why the interest in growing food now?

The uncertainty and panic caused by COVID-19, lockdowns, closed borders and overnight unemployment has made many look to self-sufficiency. Panic buying in supermarkets occurred, but it also extended to seeds, seedlings and gardening products. People wanted to feel secure, and nothing feels safer than having a backyard or balcony full of fresh food. Whether any of us knew about victory gardens or not, we’ve certainly turned to gardening in a crisis.

We really don’t have any cause for concern here though. Australia is one of few countries that are completely independent on the food front. That doesn’t mean we don’t import things of course. It simply means if we had to feed our entire population on home grown/raised food, we could. Many countries aren’t as lucky.

The other aspect of all this is having the ability to be outdoors. With lockdowns in place, being in the garden is a way we can be outside as often as we like. We’re in our own space, we feel safe and we can continue to interact with nature.

Let’s not forget of course too, that gardening is a mindful task the whole family can get involved in. When it feels like our nervous system is taking a constant beating – being in nature can help to calm. I personally love a bit of garden therapy.

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Poster 44-PA-368; Plant A Victory Garden. Our Food Is Fighting.; 1941-1945; World War II Posters, 1942 – 1945; Records of the Office of Government Reports, Record Group 44; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/victory-garden-food-is-fighting, April 11, 2020]

What could I plant now?

If after reading all that you feel a sudden urge to garden – that’s great! But we’ll need a little patience. Seeds and seedlings will be readily available again at some point. Most companies are just trying to keep up with their backlog for now. You could ask around and see if any friends have some to spare…. if they can and they’re happy to leave some in your letterbox (social distancing!), all the better.

What’s best to plant will of course depend on space, location and season. Just about anything can be grown in pots so if you don’t have big garden beds don’t fret. You can still get a little garden underway.

Right now we might even look to fast growing vegetables and herbs for a bit of instant satisfaction. I’m in Sydney, Australia and Autumn is upon us so I’ll look to plants like:

  • Rocket
  • Asian greens
  • Kale
  • Lettuce (you can also regrow these from your lettuce cores!)
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Spinach (when it gets a little cooler here)
  • Then also things like green beans, carrots and broad beans – although these are all slower growing
  • Lots of herbs! Parsley, coriander, marjoram, oregano, thyme and tarragon are all great.

Above all though – this experience should teach us to become better seed savers. It will make us just that little bit more self sufficient. I truly hope that the reduction in pollution and the return of wildlife to cities has been an eye opener for many.

Did you turn to gardening during the pandemic? What were you growing? Did it help to keep you calm? Let me know in the comments.

Want to get your garden started? Take a look at these articles for ideas:

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4 Comments

  1. I wish I could have a garden. Seriously. I know that I’ll forget to water it and it will make me sad when it dies. I’ve tried 4 other times and the same results. This was an awesome post Gabby! Love the graphics.

    1. Thank you Elaine! And you know what, I used to be exactly the same. Not much survived on my balcony initially but my green thumb eventually came. I just love interacting with the plants and all the wildlife that come to visit us now.

  2. How timely your article is Gabby. So interesting. I have been getting a real urge to grow over the past couple of months during lockdown. My green thumb is a developing one and I’m still learning so much. But my interest is growing rapidly. I don’t have a good outdoor area but have a lovely sunroom which I have started to convert into a bit of a green room. Thank you for this x

    1. Thanks, Mel. I found it interesting too! And definitely conceivable that we will see a resurgence of the Victory garden in future… if not already happening in some places. I think our green thumbs are always improving and it’s so wonderful to hear about your sunroom conversion! x