By Carol Cowan
Despite living smack-dab in the middle of a city subdivision, with yards on the small side to boot, I am enjoying what was once the exclusive province of the rural population: vegetable gardening. And, I might add, the distinctly fresh, sun-kissed produce that makes its way to my family’s dinner table as a result.
Motivated by magazine articles touting trendy catchphrases like “green living” and “slow food,” I decided early in the spring of 2009 to hop aboard the urban-gardening bandwagon and ride it into my own 60-by-40-foot backyard.
I wasn’t new to this gardening thing. In the 1980s, I lived a back-to-the-land lifestyle on 20 riverside acres in the remote reaches of Northeast Washington. There, my garden stretched out in long, spacious rows, while the perfect southern exposure and rich soil yielded bushels upon bushels of corn, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. In those days, spring and summer were a blur of planting, weeding, harvesting and putting up enough food to see my family through to the following year. How well I remembered the satisfaction of having my freezer full and my pantry stocked from the bounty of my own garden.
Since moving to Tennessee in 1999, however, neither time nor space had allowed me to take advantage of my new home’s long, hot growing season and plentiful sunshine and rain. But 2009 marked the year of change for me; if other working city-dwellers could grow a garden, I thought, so could I.
Luckily, a good friend who is an avid urban gardener was happy to lend a hand. She nurtured pots of tender tomato plants through the chilly early spring and hauled in supplies for building raised beds and soil and compost to fill them. We built three beds in a couple of evenings after work.
We started planting the early crops – lettuce, spinach, radishes, green onions – the following Saturday morning. Within minutes, my 11-year-old daughter and her neighborhood friends appeared, begging to poke the tiny seeds into the dark soil. I stood back and watched, marveling that right here in my yard, the thing all those inspiring articles had said was coming true – these “city kids” were making a connection with where food comes from. As the weeks passed, the children monitored the progress of “their” plants and eventually got to sample the fruits of their labor, some even daring to taste vegetables they wouldn’t have touched otherwise.
Meanwhile, the rest of the garden came along nicely too. Colorful bunches of Swiss chard popped up, to my delight and that of two little brown bunnies who became frequent visitors in spite of our dog. Peas climbed a lattice of string and plumped in the sun; sleek English cucumbers stretched and swelled practically before our eyes. And the tomatoes, oh, the tomatoes – tiny ones as sweet as candy graced our homegrown salads, and big, fat, juicy ones were sliced for sandwiches and diced for salsa.
Needless to say, 2010 has us gardening again, in spite of the limitations posed by our suburban lifestyle. Stepping out the back door to survey my verdant domain, I feel as rich as any land baron, and as well fed.