Grow a ‘victory garden’ to share with family, friends

Brian Hallett in the main greenhouse at Halletts' Florist and Greenhouse, Adams. Photo by Justin Sorensen.

In 1917, the National War Garden Commission launched the War Garden Campaign or Victory Garden program. People planted vegetable, fruit and herb gardens at private residences and public parks to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. Gardeners could share their skills in support of the war and be rewarded by the produce grown.

The American garden is about sharing with family and friends. It is not just about the plants that grow, but the relationships of the gardeners themselves. I grew up in a gardening family. My mom and dad turned an acre side lot in the village of Adams into a productive source for organic vegetables, berries and fruit.  My dad was a type A accounting teacher and his need for order was evident in his garden plan. Everything was planned out in an orderly grid with rototilled pathways between neatly measured rows. Our entire family planted, weeded, harvested, preserved and canned. My parents were rewarded with a cellar pantry and root cellar full of organically grown and locally sourced food before it was trendy or controversial. I never remember the work in the garden being a choice, but, like most kids, I do remember feeling like hand weeding 500 feet of corn by myself seemed way too unpleasant. Also, like most kids, I would rather go to someone else’s house and work than stay at home.

My grandparents gardened in Adams Center for more than 50 years. My grandmother was an amazing cook who defined a cook’s meddles by their ability to blend flavors and ingredients based on what was available and she rarely used a recipe. My grandfather was a ceramic artist and the garden my grandparents shared with family and friends reflected their appreciation for nature, the growing process and a creative spirit. I realize now how ahead of their time they truly were. Although both gardens were productive and beautiful in their own right there was something magical about opening the heavy wooden gate and entering my grandparents’ lovingly maintained fruit and vegetable garden. You were treated to a blend of cool-to-your-feet grassed pathways, mulched raised beds filled with vegetables and flowers growing in compost and organic soil, trellised climbers, dahlias, berry bushes, rain barrels and comfortable shaded benches. My grandparents shared their time with me as we worked the garden together. Some of my fondest memories and conversations with them took place over a glass of iced tea in a shaded part of their garden.

Photo by Justin Sorensen.

Successful gardens are about sharing: sharing work, sharing time and sharing produce. This past spring a group of friends at work decided to help one of our friends who’d had a difficult year and she couldn’t get into her garden and keep up with all the things she wanted to do. When the day arrived, we all had brought our tools and plants sourced from local greenhouses, as well as plants from our gardens. After a bit of direction from our friend, we dug in and started weeding, planting, moving plants, filling containers, cleaning out and mulching beds. Time flew that morning as we helped each other. Interestingly, the balance was wonderful. A few friends are older and have limitations, but their garden knowledge was phenomenal, while some of us have stronger backs and are able to lift bags of soil and mulch, dig holes, run a chain saw and clear weeds and brush. It all worked out and within a few hours we swept through the garden adding new life and encouragement to our dear friend.

It makes me wonder, why isn’t this done more often? It reminds me a bit of the trades made in my grandparents’ era of things such as a barn raising or crop harvesting. When people come together to help one another, it changes the attitude from both sides and just like when I was a kid helping in someone else’s garden seems less like work. All around it was amazing. Starting a gardening group is fairly easy. All you need is a plan and some people you enjoy spending time around. The time can include a meal together and some time planting, weeding, harvesting and preserving. It can be family and friends with varied skills, just a willing spirit and a bit of sweat and I believe your time shared will change how you view gardening.

Brian Hallett is an art teacher at South Jefferson Central School in Adams and his family owns Halletts’ Florist and Greenhouse in Adams, which has been in business for nearly 30 years.