What is a Victory Garden?

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As Canadians, diversity is one of our strengths, but one aspect we seldom embrace enough is generational diversity. As we all face a time of extraordinary challenges together, we have a truly amazing opportunity to combine the lived experiences of our older generations with the technical savvy of the younger ones. One remarkable example is the Victory Garden—a movement that is past due for a comeback.

A Brief History of Victory Gardens

If you’re fairly young, you may wonder why people in their fifties or older tend to be more knowledgeable about gardening than folks born after 1970. A great deal of this stems from the Victory Garden movement, which was a landmark cultural movement in North America, Europe, and Australia during World Wars I and II. 

During this period in history, the food supply was rationed as production and transportation systems were focused on supporting the war effort. In Canada, the Ministry of Agriculture began a campaign to popularize vegetable gardening in backyards and public parks to supplement war rations and improve morale.

While families certainly enjoyed the health benefits of all that fresh produce, the morale-boosting effects of the Victory Gardens were a major factor in their success. Gardening gave civilians a way to indirectly support their country’s troops, united people with a shared sense of purpose, and provided people of all ages with a rewarding pastime. Schools began offering gardening programs to build kids’ growing skills and get them interested in their family gardens. Families were also encouraged to keep chicken coops as a way to further enrich their diets with fresh, wholesome eggs. 

Baby Boomers still remember the days when everyone had one of these fantastic gardens, but as the war crept further back in history, growing produce fell out of fashion. As more and more women began working outside of the home, the convenience of grocery stores overtook the common will to keep veggie gardening. For better or worse, many Gen Xers and virtually all Millennials grew up getting their veggies from produce aisles. 

Now, with Gen Z beginning to enter the workforce, an invisible enemy has changed the rules again. Suddenly, the grocery store has practically become a war zone!

Source: Library of Congress and Northwestern University

Vintage Gardening for Modern Times

In an ironic twist of fate, the Victory Garden is starting to gain momentum again. With spring upon us, we’re faced with a choice—will we continue to rely on the grocery store for all of our perishables, or are we better off planting some seeds and reviving the Victory Garden movement? 

Personally, I’m strongly in favour of what many of us in the garden centre world are calling ‘Victory Gardens 2.0.’ These are, quite literally, not your grandmother’s gardens. By learning from the growing practises of our elders and adapting them to contemporary needs, we actually have a chance to reap much more than we sow—in more ways than one.

These days, we have all the “vintage” veggie gardening standbys—raised garden beds, veggie seeds, and our trusty wheelbarrows. However, we also have options available to us that Grandma could have only dreamed of. Think smart irrigation systems, higher-quality soil blends available for bulk delivery, premium organic fertilizers, and fast-growing vegetable hybrids with better flavour and bigger, earlier yields. What we can grow in a small yard today would be a miracle in the Victory Gardens of the past!

Pretty & Practical Pollinator Borders

An old-fashioned trick I recommend for anyone considering their own next-generation Victory Garden is the practise of planting a diverse array of flowers along your garden border. Beyond the obvious “pros” of having a yard filled with beautiful flowers, flower borders have practical benefits for your garden. 

For one, flowers—particularly native perennials—attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. There’s no better way to understand the importance of these vital creatures than to watch them as they visit your flowering tomato plants! Some pollinators also serve other beneficial purposes in the garden, like the aphid-hungry ladybug.

Beyond their appeal to pollinators, some flowers also have natural pest control properties that can manage the need for insecticides. Marigolds and chrysanthemums, for example, contain compounds that act as natural repellents to certain veggie-munching bugs.

Don’t Forget the Fruit!

As great as it is to toss up a homegrown salad or roast some garden-fresh potatoes, no one wants to skip dessert! Berry bushes and fruit trees are the perfect way to round out the offerings of your Victory Garden. Imagine the pies, jams, and crumbles you could make with the fruits of your own apple tree, Saskatoon shrub, blueberry or raspberry bush!

If you have space, I recommend growing a selection of several fruit and berry plants with varying harvest times. This way, as the season progresses, you’ll be treated to a variety of sweet, fresh, and juicy options.

While our setups might look a little different today than they did during wartime, we can still enjoy all the same benefits—including the morale boost. Right now, that sense of pride and joy may be the most important thing we can grow for ourselves. Here at Royal City Nursery, we’re still here to serve the communities surrounding Guelph, Cambridge, and Kitchener-Waterloo, so give us a call and let us help you join the movement. Together, we will be victorious!

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