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Edible gardens then and now
Food crops gain importance in the landscape

by Carolyn Singer
April 11, 2009

harvestEnthusiasm for edible gardens is building as people realize the value (as fresh and full of nutrients as possible) and satisfaction of growing their own crops. The recent buzz about vegetable gardening, organics, slow food, locally grown crops, and even the victory gardens from the 1940s is gaining momentum. Old ideas are infused with new energy.

rhubarb chardSlowly our concepts of landscaping may even change. Irrigation water for the food crops first. Flowers that feed the honeybees and beneficial insects. Yarrow lawns that require little or no water. And somewhere in between, native plants and even some xeriscaping with non-natives suited to our particular area of the country.

This dormant season I returned to studying genealogy and early Virginia history, an interest that has become a winter focus for the past few years. Each year I learn a little more about my early roots, and this year the most exciting discovery was that Bacon's Castle in Surrey County, Virginia was built by my eighth-generation great-grandfather, Arthur Allen in 1665.

In the archeological dig adjacent to this grand Jacobean house, wine bottles with his name have been discovered (he grew grapes!), and evidence of a formal English vegetable and flower garden, thought to be the first in America. My son and I were recently chatting about this when my 11-year-old grandson Marcus exclaimed, "we're studying about Bacon's Castle in school!"

Excited about the house, he was even more enthusiastic when we told him that it was a great-grandfather (now tenth generation for him), and that the gardening Grandma has been teaching about for years was an important part of that estate. This is a boy who marvels at how different the garden looks in winter, and wants to know when the raspberries will return. He has been following me around the garden this week, munching on broccoli shoots, arugula, chives, green onions, and even green garlic scallions, asking questions between bites.

I also discovered this winter a wonderful article in my parents' garden file. Yellowed, but carefully preserved, the "Planting Guide for San Francisco Victory Gardens" was printed in The San Francisco News, February 2, 1943.

Included in the article was a reference to a book by R.A. Langley, "War Gardens" which included planting details for California, county by county. Locally, we have our own guide through the Master gardeners at the UC extension office on South Auburn St., Auburn in Grass Valley, a must-have for anyone growing vegetables. This is a detailed look at the microclimates in our county.

NasturtiumsI'm excited about the "new" enthusiasm for edible gardening, and plan in future articles to write about growing crops in small containers and raised beds, on rooftops, and even in the flower garden. I'll continue to detail the soil amendments that work best, and the garden practices that maximize your efforts. This year, if you are a beginner, at least try one tomato and a few greens…I'll bet you plant more next year!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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