The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature.
To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.
— Alfred Austin
I set out to plant my garden this year as a quest – as some sort of proof that Mother Nature is not out to get us. I needed to get my hands in the dirt and remember that nature is powerful in its beauty and mighty in its magic. Also, to try and forget that nature can be cruel, given our current pandemic.
But, planting a garden this year was more complicated than in previous years. Usually, I just went to Lowe’s and bought some plants. Easy. However, with the pandemic upon us, I had so many more considerations: When should I go to the store? When would there be the least amount of people there? Should I go in the morning when they have just sanitized? What about wearing a mask and gloves?
I waited a long time. The fear was too much, and I was paralyzed with worry. Finally, I decided to stop spinning and just get to it! I asked my husband to go with me at 6am when Lowe’s opened. I had my list and we grabbed up plants with breakneck speed. No hemming and hawing over what would look good, or what is full or partial sun? Just grabbed and paid, adorned with our masks and gloves.
I felt so much better after tackling that hurdle that I planted the whole garden and all of the flower pots as soon as we got home. It was therapeutic to get my fingers into the soil as I lovingly patted down the new plantings. Yes. I admit it. I talk to my plants. My kids made fun of me as I wished all of my flowers, herbs and vegetables the best on their growth journey. I also thanked the worms for helping my plants to grow; while the sun kept me warm and the songbirds created background music.
The dirt under my fingernails was like a badge of honor and a tribute to my mom. I remember Mom planting gardens when I was growing up. She was also a member of the Garden Club. She loved the earth and all of the harvests she planted. As I admired my little garden, I thought about a recent conversation with a friend about people working in their yards more during this pandemic. She called them victory gardens.
When she said ‘victory garden’, it brought back memories of social studies classes when I first heard the term. The idea of a victory garden stemmed from pervasive food shortages in Europe during World War I and World War II. Americans planted gardens and shipped their bounties to European citizens to help. Their horticultural efforts were also enormously beneficial stateside. “An estimated twenty million World War II Victory Gardens produced nearly forty percent of the nation’s fruits and vegetables” (Smith).
Companies during war time found that victory gardening held several benefits for their employees. The act of planting communal gardens boosted employees’ morale during a very difficult time in our country’s history. Coming together for a common goal gave citizens purpose and helped with depression amidst the backdrop of two world wars.
In 1944, manufacturing companies started victory garden programs to help with absenteeism. In a newspaper article from February 1944, a reporter wrote, “One way a company can help make workers happy and more contented, thus reducing absenteeism and turnover, is to encourage victory gardening. The food will come in handy this year, too. The answer is that victory gardening pays. The man who gets comfortably tired at weeding over Sunday won’t get down to work with a hangover on Monday. The fellow with a thrifty garden underway won’t readily quit his job and leave the crop for someone else. Closer friendships and associations – not only among employees but their families as well – create a wholesome spirit that makes for better all-around labor conditions” (Heuchling).
Victory gardens did not stop after World War II. In fact, during the 2008 economic crisis, gardens sprouted up due to the rising rate of unemployment. People found that growing their own food was not only cost effective, but a good way to get healthy, organic produce for their families. Some people continue to plant bee gardens – gardens that are specifically designed to increase the honeybee population that is at risk of extinction due to climate change.
There is no doubt that victory gardens have a storied history combining love for the earth and benefit of humankind. I found a great deal of comfort planting our little garden and an added bonus? We planted it on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Who knew? The days all blend together in this quarantine, but there must have been some cosmic pull to getting that garden planted on that day.
After Charlotte made the national news as the “#1 location to watch” for a COVID 19 surge, I remain scared, but resolute. This garden helps me stay productive and positive as it is teaching me mindfulness, patience and hope.
The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.
– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Heuchling, Fred. “‘Gardens That Raise Morale.’” Nation’s Business, Feb. 1944.
Smith, Tracy. “‘Victory Gardens for the War Against COVID 19.’” CBS Sunday Morning, CBS, 5 Apr. 2020.