Thursday, March 12, 2009
Interlude: Early gardens we had known
John and I had both had some experience with veggie gardens, and we remembered them fondly. These small plots on land our families had owned 30 years before may have been part of the reason we were so keen on growing our own food.
My first garden was created by my mother during World War II at the back of our yard. At first we had a lawn than ran down to the edge of the lawn of the boy who lived behind us. Then my mother protected our property by building a post and rail fence across the back. Later came the garden, across much of the width of the yard, and up against the fence.
It was a Victory Garden. Americans were encouraged during the war to do their duty by helping raise food, whether they lived in the country or the city. I remember my mother digging and harvesting when I was about 2.
Later after the war my mother turned the garden back into sod. Maybe it had been such hard work that she didn't want to continue, or maybe there was just a sense that the war was over and it was time to return to normal life.
My Uncle Ed, already in his 60s by the time I came on the scene, also gardened. He lived in Hartford, and kept a garden that fed the family consisting of him, my grandparents, and his sister. Their parents before them had certainly had a garden at their home in Hartford, and my grandfather's family even had a cow right there in the city. The generation before them had lived in Ireland, and there they had a garden or succumbed. I looked at that garden with curiosity and was told to stay out of it.
We moved next to Darien CT where my father taught school. We had a flat backyard and my mother immediately set about scratching away the grass and planting. I was 6 or 7 and was not only able to give her a hand, she allowed me to do much of the planting and harvesting. I don't know whether she wanted to grow veggies then to help balance the budget, or just because a garden had been part of her childhood. I remember harvesting kohlrabi and green beans.
We moved four more times in quick succession, partly because my father was called up again due to the outbreak of fighting in Korea. It wasn't until I was nearly 11 that we moved into our final family home.
It seemed natural to me to start a garden. I couldn't interest my mother in the project, but I got our old shovel and rake and started to work.
I had a hard time of it because of roots and rocks. And the yard was fairly shady out there in the back. So in the end I just had a small garden and not much produce.
Meanwhile John's family had worked together in the yard every sunny weekend and a flower garden plus some vegetables was the standard for the family. I don't think there was a time when they didn't have a garden, even when they lived in New Hampshire with its short summers or in Massachusetts where they had a tiny yard. His father did the manual labor, and his mother, who had grown up on a farm, supported the project as the best way to feed the family.
When we had our first home, we set about putting in some plants, such as peas next to the back door we had in Lexington. It was in one of the few sunny spots. When we got to Wellesley the yard was on a slope and again quite shady, and I built up the downhill end with boards and carried some dirt in from the woods to build up the soil. I struggled to grow beets and spinach there without much success.
And then we moved to the farm. We had all this behind us, and were ready to get our hands dirty.