Victory gardens

I have been looking at vintage garden photos from the online catalog of the Library of Congress. These two — of 1943 victory gardens in northwest and southeast Washington, D.C. — are really charming.

This couple is heading home from their plot with their sailor whites still looking clean and sharp.

“Washington, D.C. Victory garden in the Northwest section,” 1943, by Louise Rosskam. Via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all photos here).

Below, Mrs. Carr seems to be present for moral support only, or perhaps she will take the next shift with the shovel.

“Washington, D.C. Leslie Edward Carr of the British Purchasing Commission with his wife at their victory garden on Fairlawn Ave., Southeast,” June 1943, by Joseph A. Horne. 

Louise Rosskam, who took the first photo above, was “one of the elusive pioneers of what has been called the golden age of documentary photography.” She took a number of pictures of the same group of northwest D.C. victory gardens in the spring of 1943. (Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

I believe this is the couple in the first photo above.
Apartment buildings in the background.
Another couple working. I love her high-waisted, wide-leg white pants.
This lady also looks great in black gloves and snood and sunglasses.
The individual plots were outlined with field rocks.
Another gardener heading home by the same fence opening.
Buying victory garden supplies.

All the photos above (except that of the Carrs) are by Louise Rosskam, via the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

I believe these garden plots were in the neighborhood of Glover Park, where we have a house. According to the Glover Park Citizens Association, it established the first World War II victory garden in the city, at 42nd and Tunlaw Road. It still exists today as a community garden. (Alternatively, they may be of the Tilden victory gardens at Connecticut Avenue and Tilden Street, which Rosskam also photographed.)

This is a link to a short film made in the forties about how to prepare, plant, and harvest a 1/4 acre victory garden. It features a rural northern Maryland family and is an interesting look at home gardening advice and practices of the time.

The new garden

Note:  There is gallery of photos at the end.  I’m still having trouble successfully inserting pictures into my posts without tears.

This spring I started my seventh garden.  As a Foreign Service spouse, that’s how it’s been: move, make a garden; move, make a garden . . . . Five in Africa, one in Chevy Chase, Md.  Now, here we go again.

We bought our 1920’s rowhouse last August.  The back garden is about 16′ x 74′.  We’re really lucky to have this much space in Glover Park, where normal is a tiny plot in front and a deck overlooking a parking pad out back.

What was already in our long narrow garden was not bad.  We have a deck, which sits about 4′ above the ground,  a 6 1/2′ tall stockade fence — nicely weathered — and a flagstone sidewalk to the back gate.

There’s a huge old holly tree (a male apparently, no berries) about two thirds of the way back.  It provides morning and mid-day shade and shields us from the view of some Wisconsin Avenue shops and restaurants (and their noise).  Unfortunately, it also drops its prickly little leaves like crazy in mid spring. Continue reading “The new garden”

Starting out: my oasis in the Sahel

BEFORE: the front garden

We arrived in Niamey, Niger, in August 2006.  My husband worked at the U.S. Embassy there, and this house had been assigned to Embassy families for many years. It had always been much appreciated for its nice patio, flat rooftop (reached by spiral staircase), and large lawn for outside entertaining. However, by the time we took possession, there wasn’t much to the garden except grass.

BEFORE: the side lawn

Very short, ragged hedges bordered the sidewalks that went around the house. You had to step over them to get on to the lawn.  Most of the few other plants were lined up at the base of the front wall. The areas around the backdoor and the pool were bare dirt — except during the rainy season, when they turned to mud. On the plus side, however, there were mature palms, a baobab, mangoes, frangipanis, and some roses.

On the ground, I wanted curves to echo the circular outlines of the tops of the palms, the fanned out clusters of the frangipani leaves, and the spiral of a staircase leading up to the roof. I needed to link a small front garden (planned as an ornamental display of plants to be viewed while sitting on the patio), a large side lawn (an entertainment area for large groups), and a back fenced rectangular pool area. I played with various wavy planting bed shapes, but the various parts of the whole space weren’t merging smoothly.

Partial garden plan

Then I had a strange inspiration: I noticed the way the razor wire topping the 8 ft. walls looped round and round.  This gave me a concept for form and organization.  All the planting beds became loops — some circles, others a little more oval like a smushed roll of the wire.  The loops overlapped, two or three in a set; the walls, walkways, and the house sliced through them. The loops were smaller in the front garden and got bigger as they led into the big side lawn. They passed through the open metal fence of the pool area, joining it to the lawn.

We rimmed all the edges of the smaller front beds with short hedges. Half the bushes had lime green leaves, half were darker, which set off the overlapping effect. We filled in the beds with a variety of tropical and temperate-climate flowers, as well as banana and papaya plants.  The plantings in the larger circles on the side lawn were more freeform without hedges. Using the concept of loops of wire/flower beds, each area of the garden was defined, yet flowed into the other areas.

AFTER: early growth on the lawn

What my concept did not include, however, was a good plan for water, or  rather the lack of it. It took a lot of watering to keep those beds looking lush (although much the same was true for the grass they replaced). We did let the grass and some of the bedding plants go brown at the height of the dry season and experimented with timed irrigation. Toward the end of our time there, I began to find more drought-resistant plants like agaves. (The local plant sellers farmed down at the river’s edge and generally catered to the expats’ desires for tropicals and for the flowers they knew from home, not to a need for dry-climate plants.)

AFTER: irrigating the front garden

If we had stayed longer, I would have consolidated the more water-greedy plants in the beds in the front garden and put more drought-resistant plants and maybe some gravel in the side lawn beds.

Click on the first photo below to scroll through a series of pictures of the garden. The time difference between BEFORE and AFTER was about 20 months. We lived in this country for 2 years.