Despite the headlines, Victory Gardens aren’t back. Not yet.
As the pandemic smolders and the economy plunges into an abyss, Americans have reverted to the venerable World War II–era tradition of organized disaster gardening. According to headline writers, that is.
“Food Supply Anxiety Brings Back Victory Gardens,” declared the New York Times in late March. “Just like World War II, many are relying on their garden’s bounty to get them through this uncertain time,” echoed Good Housekeeping in early May. The multinational lawn-chemical giant Scotts Miracle-Gro wants to leverage this sentiment. “Plant your #VictoryGarden today,” a recent ad urges watchers over scenes of sun-dappled suburbanites pulling produce from loamy backyard plots.
Look around, though. Do you see vegetable gardens pretty much everywhere? Not just in private lawns, but also in vacant city lots, schoolyards, public parks, the strip between sidewalks and streets? That’s what Victory Gardens looked like, during World War II and also during World War I’s lesser-known gardening bonanza. These were giant mobilizations, harnessing grassroots energy with massive public investment.