Whether for comfort or sustenance, ‘victory gardens’ are flourishing

| April 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

JULIEN, JULIE, Astrid, Leo and Winston Stromberg with their flourishing lettuce, kale and Swiss chard.

In both World Wars I and II, Americans were encouraged to plant gardens as an act of patriotism. These “war gardens” or “victory gardens” were meant to supplement the food supply and leave more for the soldiers valiantly fighting abroad. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million victory gardens were planted in WWII, providing one third of all vegetables produced in the U.S. during the war years. Now that we are at war with COVID-19, victory gardens have made a comeback.

“Business is exploding. It’s the return of the victory garden,” explains Two Dog Organic Nursery co-owner Jo Anne Trigo. “People are anxious for some horticultural therapy. Some people are bored; some are fearful.” The Miracle Mile edibles nursery wants to assuage fears about the spreading virus, so they eliminated in-person browsing and initiated a drive-up protocol. Emailed orders are brought curbside by masked and gloved nursery staff.

Laurie Shechter purchased herbs from Two Dogs as part of her expanding garden effort. Shechter is sheltering in place with her husband Dr. Patrick Lydon and her 89-year-old mother. Planting a garden helps her stay closer to home. “I planted a little window herb garden,” Shechter explains. “I have a bay window in the kitchen that’s deep and hard to reach. I never knew what to do with it.” She also planted vegetables from Rolling Greens in two raised planters in her backyard.

Rolling Greens on Beverly Blvd. temporarily shuttered when social distancing was first mandated to decrease coronavirus exposure risk. The newly opened space is airier, with windows and doors thrown open. Gardeners are free to enter or opt for curbside pickup.

“People are grateful to us for having the opportunity to roam around surrounded by plants, because they feel so confined,” explains co-owner Greg Salmeri. “People had fantasies about what they’d do if they had time, and it turns out gardening was one of them. It gives them pleasure at a time when there aren’t many pleasures.”

Edibles on the menu

JIM HARRIS tends his Hancock Park backyard garden.

And what are they buying? “Edibles are way up. That trend has been growing for years, but this year it skyrocketed. Especially organic edibles,” says Salmeri.

Windsor Village is particularly fertile ground for avid gardeners. Julie and Winston Stromberg’s garden is a full-family affair, with 7-year-old Julien and 4-year-old Leo raking, watering and helping with the planting while 9-month-old Astrid watches. Stromberg notes, “They like to get dirty, so we have them help with the garden beds and the soil.” They plant what they like to eat, such as cherry tomatoes and watermelon. Stromberg laughs, “Leo loves watermelon!”

When the pandemic arrived, Stromberg started a Whats-App for the Windsor Village community so everyone could help each other get what they needed, including garden supplies. One post about a run to Sunset Blvd. Nursery resulted in four neighbors’ receiving plants without having to leave their homes.

Sunset Blvd. Nursery lists available fruits and vegetables on their website and takes phone orders for curbside pickup. Manager Greg Kuga said that, this year, there’s more demand than ever for vegetables, especially fast-growing crops. “Lettuces and kales are popular,” Kuga states. “They grow really fast; they can be harvested sooner. People don’t want to go to the store anymore.”

CHRIS CORDONE and son Julien with egg carton tamarind seeds.

Filmmaker Chris Cordone and his 5-year-old son, Julien, take care of the family’s food crop while mom Elizabeth is busy making our lives sweeter at her dessert shop, Cake Monkey. In addition to the lemon, fig and kumquat trees in their Windsor Village home’s yard, Cordone and his son filled their garden with such things as bean sprouts and herbs. He and Julien scooped out squash seeds to plant and started tamarind seeds in an egg carton. Unfortunately, their blueberry bush didn’t thrive. “That was heartbreaking for Julien,” Cordone reveals. “He loves blueberries.” Cordone believes there’s a huge educational benefit to gardening with a child. “It teaches him about the cycle of life.”

Jim and Janna Harris are a gardening team: he sows, they both reap, and she cooks. The Hancock Park residents have been growers for years, but this year is different, as Jim Harris explains, “I started more things early this year. Usually you stagger them to have them come up at different times. I have just been planting as much as I possibly can to have as much food as I possibly can.” He shops at Anawalt Lumber because their garden center is outside and not crowded.

Kale chips

SHERRI BROOKS VINTON harvests lemons from her backyard garden.

His crop includes a variety of greens, as Harris attests, “I’m growing a lot of kale because Janna likes to make kale chips.” She shared her recipe: steam the kale, dry it, toss with olive oil and salt, spread the leaves apart on a cookie sheet and place in a 400-degree oven. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn; the kale should be crispy in around 10 minutes.

Greens are flying off the shelves, confirms Sandy, a longtime garden expert at Anawalt Lumber. “People are buying up plants faster than we can ready them.” The demand for vegetables is so high that they are selling younger and smaller specimens than they normally would.

In order to limit grocery runs, many home gardeners emphasize eliminating as much food waste as possible. Cookbook author Sherri Brooks Vinton supports this philosophy. “My focus has always been cooking sustainably, using up everything. Green tops from carrots. The stems of Swiss chard.”

Pickled and canned

Pickling salvages older vegetables, she shares. “When you have vegetables that are starting to wilt, I like to chop these up, load them into any jar and quick pickle them.” Then all one needs to do, she advises, is mix some salt and sugar into a solution of 50/50 water and vinegar and pour over your veggies. Vinton adds, “It keeps for three weeks in the refrigerator.”

The Brookside resident concentrates on growing herbs and is amazed how much she can grow in a 2-foot by 4-foot space.

SUSAN NICKELS in her kitchen.

A state-certified Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver, Susan Nickels recommends canning foods to extend the life of one’s home-grown or purchased fruits and vegetables. She maintains an herb garden in the Crenshaw community garden, but she wanted to be more prepared for possible food shortages this year. For ready protein, Nickels cooked dried beans and legumes and canned them, and she turned her attention to vegetables. “Now, because of COVID, I want to have my own source of vegetables.” In case the virus protocols start limiting our movements even more, she wanted a garden closer to her home.

Her Windsor Village property is too shaded for successful growing, but her neighbor’s yard is sunny. They joined forces for mutual benefit. Nickels relates, “I did a day of panic buying. I went to Anawalt to get some seedlings. I got three of four types of spinach, chard, kale, summer squash, sweet peppers.” Her goal is to grow plenty of food for both of them and have extra for anyone else in the neighborhood who might run out during this time of uncertainty.

Beauty and solace, too

Although many gardeners are developing their plots to rely less on markets, many also remember that gardens provide beauty and solace at a time that desperately needs some.

IVNA GUZMAN finds refuge in her garden.

Hancock Park Garden Club member Ivna Guzman and her husband, Bruce Beiderwell (Chronicle “Books and Places” columnist), moved to Windsor Village a few years ago, and their backyard was completely dead. Beiderwell does the heavy lifting, but Guzman is the main gardener, and she proudly states, “We revived the garden and planted roses and lavender and camellias. It’s becoming quite beautiful.” Lately she’s turned to vegetables, too. “I’m growing lettuces and beets and carrots and peas. I have been having fun eating out of the garden, especially now that we’re confined.”
Guzman reflects, “I’m very grateful every day for the environment we have, because so many people around the world do not have the luxury of having a home and a garden. It becomes our refuge.”

Resources: Two Dog Organic Nursery 323-422-3835 twodognursery.com; Rolling Greens 323-934-4500 rghomeandgarden.com; Sunset Blvd. Nursery 323-662-1642 sunsetblvdnursery.com; Anawalt Lumber 323-464-1600 anawaltlumber.com.

Food preserving and canning information: National Center for Home Food Preservation nchfp.uga.edu; or email Susan Nickels at susan_nickels@hotmail.com.



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