Thursday, 5 September 2013

Kitchen gardens and Dig for Victory gardens

Brigitta Huegel

When today  I saw the post "Student vegetable plots" on the blog 'What ho Kew?' it reminded me of a text I wrote 14 years ago. 

"Why", asked son, "don't you have a kitchen garden?" (which in Germany is called a Nutzgarten - profit or utility garden). 
I am surprised. Son has French cousins, but this would be the first French character trait I was about to discover: 
"A glimpse into French gardens shows you the equal concern of the Frenchman of his country and of cooking. Fruit and vegetable have priority over flowers and ornamental shrubs", 
writes Brigitte Tillney in her book "Culinary pleasures from the French Kitchen Garden". 
Under the text we see the photograph of a rather sullen looking little French boy, aged maybe 5, loaded with courgettes. 
Well, definitely son had beamed much more when he, at the same age, hold our harvest in his hands: a lot of cocktail tomatoes from a single plant at the warm wall of the house (where now vine and clematis grow). These tomatoes had impressed him so much that he almost couldn't wait for the day to come back from our holidays! In my diary I found this entry about our arrival home: 
"But first he  ran into the garden: he had spoken of it so often in Amrum, even dreamed of and asked: "Maybe a very fat pumpkin will block the garden gate - what will you think then?" 
I haven't forgotten the year before when he had sold a splendid kohlrabi and a few courgettes to the neighbours in our street - with the distinct reminder "These are organic vegetables!" (The amused neighbours told me). 
The shallots were safe, though: we had entwisted them into long plaits, and they lasted the whole winter. Now the organic farmers offer them at the market, and that's why I don't plant them anymore. Besides, there is almost any place here, everywhere flowers are on the rampant. 
                Under the sun shade the gaze of son becomes speculative. "I would turn all this into a kitchen garden." 
I grow pale: "You can do that - when the garden belongs to you. But I will come at night and spook, I will point with pallidly glowing fingers to those prosaic heads of cabbage and hollowly ask: 'What have you done to my flowers?!?
That does not impress him because he already thinks out a perfect sprinkler system for long rows of planned beans and peas - for the "optimum gain". He reminds me of de La Quintine, who gave up jurisprudence to become Royal Gardener in Versailles. (Till now son always wanted to study law. But maybe he'll fall in love with a flower garden in advanced age?)  
As a compromise I now suggest an English cottage garden, where at least vegetable and flowers live harmoniously in the same bed, even to the benefit of both. 
And tell him of wartime (which, being born thank God later, I hadn't to experience), in which in England hungry people dug up the lanes to plant potatoes. And President Roosevelt recommended the Americans to lay out 'Victory gardens', and not to waste anything, and the American women really accomplished to earn over a million tons of vegetable, which was half of what the home front consumed. 
This impresses our son. 
But I am glad that nowadays we don't have any 'Victory' but only 'peace' gardens. Full of flowers.
Just beautiful.    

PS: In 2013 I have to add that son studied successfully law. And read Churchill's biography. The love of gardens will follow, I'm sure of that. 


  1. When an elderly Vietnamese neighbor saw me planting flowers, she wanted to know "Why?" She couldn't see any point to planting something that couldn't be eaten. The concept of "beauty for beauty's sake" meant nothing to her.

    Over the weekend, we visited a museum that had numerous signs promoting victory gardens. It also had a small garden, but there was nothing victorious about it. It was overrun with weeds, and the vegetables were rotting on the vine. Such a waste. In my opinion, the museum would have been better off having no garden at all than planting one and then neglecting it.

  2. Dear Susan,
    I am so glad at your comment! Can you imagine that I woke up this morning, thinking about an old teacher, who would have written "Off-topic!" under my essay - and right she would have been :-) I hadn't thought when I found my old writing what a reader who didn't know me or my family would expect under that header...
    So I will try to heal that in the next post.
    To your kind writing: I can understand the Vietnamese neighbour, but personally I think (being a child of a generation in abundance) that beauty nourishes too: the soul.
    As to the museum: so sad! In England I visited a garden Museum in London (and wrote about it a better post than this, I hope) - it was utterly lovely and recommendable.
    So: glad to hear from you!

    1. Beauty is an impeccable source of nourishment for which there should never be an apology. Onward, lovely spirit.

  3. Everyone is a gardener today, planting exotica and spouting suspiciously complicated Latin names. In my imagination I am a brilliant gardener, feeding my family and neighbours from the abundance of my two raised beds. The reality is that there are a few stunted potatoes and three gnarled tomato plants out there. It was not a banner year!

  4. Oh Pondside,
    you make me laugh, I enjoy that! Planting exotica is not that complicated - but to bring them over winter is, whether in the 'cellarium' or in the basement makes no difference to me :-) .
    Imagination is the best equipment for gardening, I believe: as you I see abundance, beauty, and garden architecture in my garden, and was quite shocked when a prosaic Hemul - äh, sorry - a prosaic acquaintance visited my wonderland for the first time, looked around, and said drily: "Yeees - a lot of work waiting for you."
    But I admit: there are good years, banner years - and, well: years.