At the Britt household we’ve declared our own small victory over the pandemic. Tom and granddaughter Payton have planted the 2020 version of a Victory Garden – well, that’s what I’m calling it, anyway.
For those possibly not old enough to be familiar with the term, a Victory Garden first became a thing during World War I. As the farmers who provided food for much of the nation found themselves going off to war, the powers that be at the time began to encourage those left behind to start their own little gardens, whether in a small, backyard plot or in pots on the porch or even on the rooftops of apartment buildings. These gardens, eventually called Victory Gardens, freed up some food items for the troops, and kept some families from starving in a strained economy. The idea resurfaced during World War II – even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden in the front yard of the White House, much to the chagrin of the U.S. FDA, I’ve read.
But in addition to the benefit of the United States economy, Victory Gardens proved to be a real morale-booster. In a time when our sons and fathers were dying for the cause of world freedom, those left at home could do something to support the cause – if only to raise their own tomatoes and green beans.
Here, we have tried in the past to plant a backyard garden, with little success. Where I grew up in Virginia and then where we lived in Durham, N.C., the soil was rich and infused with clay, so it held moisture and nutrients that made a garden a breeze. We almost always had one, and it almost always flourished. We were able to can items and freeze others to enjoy the fruits of our labor well into winter.
Then we moved to South Carolina. Here the soil seems to be used up and sandy, so it doesn’t hold moisture for long. And we could discuss the proliferation of bugs that love to eat our plantings just before we are ready to harvest. (I still recall a cherry tree at our previous home. I babied it, and it would bear lots of fruit each year. And each year when I would decide the cherries were ready to be picked, the birds would somehow know and beat me to every single cherry – every single year.) So in recent years we have given up on a garden. It just wasn’t worth the effort.
Enter the pandemic of 2020.
My husband sensed the effect sheltering in place was having on our local grandchildren. Ten-year-old Payton, in particular, seemed to need purpose in her life as all her usual outlets were curtailed – no Girl Scout meetings, no classes or significant schoolwork, no field trips, no swim team, no Vacation Bible School, nothing to divert attention away from the strange spring and summer we’re having.
So Tom bought some plants to jump-start a garden, as well as seeds, so that they could watch their efforts grow from scratch. And it seemed to do the trick.
Payton and her brother, Cade, prepared a little plot at the end of our driveway. They didn’t seem to mind pulling weeds or tilling the soil by hand. They then planted a few tomato plants, as well as zucchini, squash, pepper and watermelon plants. They also planted carrot seeds and Black-Eyed Susan seeds (for a little color). Payton noticed we had some red potatoes sprouting in the vegetable bin on my kitchen counter and asked if she could plant those. They cut up the separate sprouts and put those in the garden.
Since then, Payton has really gotten into tending her garden and watching it grow. Every time her family comes to our house, the first thing she does upon exiting the car is to run to the garden to see what’s happening. She was thrilled with the first fruits of her labor – a zucchini that seemed to grow from nothing to huge over night. And she’s been able to harvest innumerable tomatoes and a few potatoes. She really doesn’t like tomatoes – it’s a texture issue, I think – but she is so excited to be able to pick the tomatoes as they ripen. Over the weekend there were so many tomatoes ready that I almost picked them for a pasta salad I was making for the Fourth, but I decided I probably needed to wait for Payton – and I’m so glad I did. The look on her face as she picked tomatoes that she planted and weeded and babied was priceless. She truly beamed as she ran in with her bounty and said, “Look, YaYa! Look at all these tomatoes!”
She has four or five watermelons growing on the vine right now, and she keeps asking, “Could it it be red on the inside now?” Even though she planted Sugar Babies, I keep trying to explain that a watermelon that measures about three inches in diameter is not likely to be ripe for the picking yet.
So I’m declaring it our own personal Victory Garden. It’s a victory over boredom. It’s a victory over our past history with gardens in South Carolina (after 40-plus years of trying). It’s a victory over too much TV/electronics time. It’s a victory over depression, honestly.
Our garden has proved to be exactly what the original Victory Gardens were intended to be – a serendipitous source of food (as we begin to enjoy the harvest) and, above all, a source of pride and improved morale fo a little girl who needs more than life has given her lately.
In short, it’s one small victory over the pandemic in the Britt household. Victory Garden is exactly the right name for it.