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VICTORY GARDEN GAL

A peek at George Washington’s victory gardens

Posted on September 13, 2021

OpinionColumns

DeeAnn Rivera

DeeAnn Rivera

I’m outnumbered at home. My husband and daughters at home all enjoy history. I enjoy gardens.

This past Labor Day, I was able to combine all our interests and we toured Mount Vernon, George Washington’s former home in Virginia.

Of course, I see George on the quarter and know that he helped lead our country through the war for independence and was the United States’ first president. What I didn’t realize was his zeal for making farming crops more abundant and restoring the land.

Victory gardening for people in the 1700s was a necessity. There were no farmers’ markets, grocery stores or co-ops. Knowing the gardens were essential, I was surprised to see how artistically they were created. There were four gardens around  the Mount Vernon estate. Each served a different purpose, but all were practical as well as beautiful.

There was a lot of French influence on the shape and produce. The Upper Garden was close to the house and a place that guests would go through after dinner was over. It was meant to be the “show-off” garden. The produce was set up with symmetrical plantings and were bordered by dwarf boxwood shrubs (some trimmed and clipped into fleurs de lis).

This French-inspired garden also had espalier trees, which are fruit trees pruned to grow flat against the wall. This garden was impressive, especially to guests. The ornamental and specialty plantings showed that the estate had the financial resources and labor to maintain the garden.

The focal point for the upper garden was an awe-inspiring greenhouse. A place that George experimented with growing seeds collected from around the world as well as extending the ability to harvest produce year-round.

The Lower Garden, also known as the kitchen garden, was where most of the fruits, vegetables and herbs to use for meals were grown. It was a functional garden, but still was very artfully planted. Mrs. Washington oversaw what was planted and planned meals around what was ready to harvest.

The Botanical Garden was George’s “play” garden. This is where he experimented with the different plants he had obtained or were given to him, to see if they could grow in Virginia’s climate. His experiments included growing alfalfa and oats, which he thought would increase productivity in his fields — he was correct and switched from growing tobacco to wheat, alfalfa and oats.

The Fruit and Nursery Garden replaced a failed attempt at a vineyard. Apparently, George Washington loved strawberry ice cream. The Fruit and Nursery Garden was full of apples, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots and, of course, strawberries. The Washingtons also grew several varieties of nut trees in this area as well.

Most people probably don’t get real excited about dirt, but when I saw the huge compost area, I yelled at my husband, “Oh my gosh! It’s a compost pile!” My husband wasn’t as impressed as I was.

Mr. Washington should be called the Father of Composting. He was an avid composter and used his rich compost as well as his livestock to fertilize and renew the soil on his property. He also experimented with winter cover crops, rotating crops and planting nitrogen-fixing crops. Things that are considered sustainable and responsible farming now, he practiced in the 1700s.

I also appreciated that the tour guides were very vocal about the lifestyle the Washingtons enjoyed. All the activities that made the Washingtons and their guests comfortable were due to the fact the enslaved workers worked tirelessly. Without their work, the majestic house and grounds would have been too much work for Washington and his family to maintain.

I’d like to also honor our essential workers again as we are seeing another wave of COVID variants causing sickness again. It’s been a lot of work finding safe ways to keep our grocery stores open, and we’ve realized that it takes a lot of workers to get our food from the farm to the stores. Even if you have your own victory garden, most of us still need to buy things to keep food on the table every day. Thank you, essential workers!

On the eating note, I’ve added a favorite fall recipe that I pull out once I move my flannels to the front of my closet. I’m ready to wear my boots and wrap a scarf around my neck and eat chili. Of course, nothing goes better with flannel than pumpkins!

I’ve added a must-try easy dinner, turkey pumpkin chili. It’s simple, easy and tastes great, which is my favorite kind of cooking!

DeeAnn Rivera is a Spring Hope resident who blogs at VictoryGardenGal.com. Email her at VictoryGardenGal@gmail.com.

Slow Cooker Turkey Pumpkin Chili

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound ground turkey

½ onion, diced

1 can diced tomatoes

2 cup fresh cubed pumpkin

1 can chili beans

1 can black beans

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 tablespoon chili powder

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional – but I love them)

DIRECTIONS 

1. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add in ground turkey and cook until crumbly and no longer pink.

2. Put cooked turkey in a slow cooker and stir in all other ingredients. Set the cooker to low and let cook until the pumpkin is tender and breaks apart (about 3 hours).

3. Add crusty bread and enjoy!

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