“Panic gardening” during a pandemic

I recently saw a friend on Facebook assert that we need to revive the Victory Garden tradition of World War Two. As part of the war effort, women were encouraged to grow their own vegetables to take pressure off commercial supplies of food, and to ensure households were staying healthy.  

Yvonne Lawson, Carol Loseby, Betty Wetkin and Ruth Collum, do their bit for the war effort by digging for victory, 1941. (John Oxley Library collection)

As part of this “dig for victory” effort, young women volunteered to grow vegetables for convalescent soldiers, according to a Courier-Mail article from 1941 titled Women Dig Soil to Feed Sick Diggers. Suburban vegetable gardening has a long tradition, however—who can blame those of us stuck at home for taking the opportunity to grow more green things? 

Bessie Adams in a vegetable garden, pre 1900. (John Oxley Library collection)

A fair few Queenslanders, it seems, are pandemic gardening. To those not interested in gardening, it looks a lot like panic gardening. “People are panic buying vegetable seedlings!” the Internet is crowing. First toilet paper, now chickens! Any gardener can tell you that panicking is pointless when working with soil and seeds. Gardening teaches patience, persistence and resilience. Have you ever tried to grow plants in a hurry? “Plants aren’t essential” someone grumbled online as I impulse bought plants alongside my regular groceries. If puzzles are essential then so are plants, my friend. 

Backyard vegetable garden in Wilston, Brisbane. (John Oxley Library collection)

There are incredibly beneficial effects to gardening—whether that be gardening for food, or gardening purely for pleasure. While we’ve been reassured that our food supply isn’t under threat—Australia is one of the most food secure nations in the world—the simple fact remains that gardening is good for us. And as the threat of a recession looms, households may need to consider the small ways in which they can save money. Most of us will never grow enough food to become completely self-sufficient. That is not the intent of the average suburban gardener. Gardening bestows a sense of calm and control, and in these uncertain and chaotic times, the biggest benefit of pandemic gardening may be to our mental health.

Stacey Larner - Librarian, State Library of Queensland


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