Victory Gardens Pt. 1: Ready for Fall Plantings

By Emma Jackson


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


Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the opportunity to garden at home is uplifting people all over the world, many of whom had never tried their hand at gardening until now. From raised beds, to apartment balcony planters, to landscaping part of the lawn into a fresh plot of soil, gardens are popping up to provide families with an additional food source during these uncertain times. 

For many new and seasoned gardeners, the summer victory garden harvest is producing abundant vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and the possibilities for fall plantings are beginning to sprout. Some communities have more than enough summer harvest to share with their neighbors and friends, commence canning for the winter months, and dry herbs or dehydrate fruits for longer term storage. Victory gardens are a testament to how a garden can truly elevate your family or community and support you to live your best life.

WWI family pitched in to plant a victorious “war” garden; A chance for life, for survival. (Photo Source: NY Times)

Victory gardens, also known as “war gardens,” first began to flourish in March of 1917, just before the United States entered World War I. The idea started as a way to preserve rations for our allies abroad. The federal government encouraged citizens to plant in their yards as well as in vacant lots and nearby fields. Once the United States entered the war, victory gardens became even more crucial as a way to support food systems abroad and at home. People began planting wherever they could- schoolyards, parks, fire escapes, and window boxes. A National War Garden Commission was formed and persistent propaganda was spread throughout the country, encouraging Americans that gardening was a form of their patriotic duty; a form of fighting the enemy was to grow a “victorious war garden” (Credit: The LA Times & National Archives). Adults and children alike joined in the effort and began committing to the movement through pledges, encouraged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Bureau of Education’s United States School Garden Army. By 1918, five million new gardens had been planted, resulting in millions of additional quarts of canned fruits and veggies (Credit: Good Housekeeping).

Victory gardens were planted on rooftops, fire escapes, and in vacant lots, contributing to urban agriculture. Photo Source: Hoerr Schaudt

Victory gardens swept the United States again during World War II as a way to combat food shortages, but also for many as a way to have control over their food source during a time of unrest, unpredictability, and incredible loss- similar to some of the motivations of new coronavirus pandemic gardeners in 2020. The experience of growing one’s food and spending time in the garden is an act of bold resistance; an investment in a healthy future. The peace and safety offered by one’s garden is increasingly distinct from the anxiety and insecurity of the picked-over, inflated, and potentially high-risk experience felt by many recently at the grocery store during pandemic-times.

If you want to try gardening but may be unsure of how to get started, now is the time to plant any last minute fall plants where spring and summer plants have dwindled. In many areas, you have the opportunity to plant bulbs in the fall that will overwinter and produce next spring. The first step is to learn about which plants can be grown to harvest in your region before the first frost. Arugula, spinach, bush beans, root vegetables such as beets, and other short-season varieties are common for fall gardens depending on your hardiness zone

Pandemic gardener, Monika, living in Herndon, Virginia created a wooden pallet planter victory garden to grow fresh herbs and greens from her compact condo balcony. Monika’s story and many others will be highlighted in Part 2 of this series in the coming weeks!

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series! We have compiled victory garden stories from around the United States and beyond to share with you the possibilities of starting your own garden wherever you are, with whatever size space you have available!