We hear so much about urban farms and growing vegetables in any size space, but would it surprise you to know Charles Barnard was touting the value of front yard veggie growing back in the 1890s? Yup! And it’s amazing how relatable it is today.
If you are interested in easy veggie ideas, find out all the unexpected edibles already growing in your vegetable garden.
Encouraging Urban Food Growers In The Victorian Era
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Urban Farming is Nothing New
The idea of growing food in a city garden was nothing new back in the 1880s.
My Handkerchief Garden by Charles Barnard was first published in 1889, providing practical information and encouragement for creating a kitchen garden on a small urban lot—just like we do today.
He carefully recorded every penny spent, thrilled to grow more food than he could use and saving him a net $20.49 in 1887 alone that he would have had to pay for the same produce (about $575 in today’s dollars).
Here’s a description of his yard:
“Given a city lot and we have an area of 25×100. The house occupies usually about 40 of the 100 feet, leaving an open space in the rear of 25×60. Here the weekly wash must dry, and for this purpose there must be grass. The maid, when in the garden hanging out the clothes, would be heavy of foot on lettuce or roses, and so it usually happens the back yard produces nothing but grass….”
I was nodding my head in recognition with this passage about the shape of his yard when he first obtained the property. It sounds just like the mess we found when moving into our first home (in a new development):
“When the snows of March melted away, the garden came into sight. The former tenant had apparently regarded the garden as the proper place to deposit the waste of a generation. Bones, clamshells, rejected shoes and cans, were plentiful. Added to this it had been dug over since the last crop, and corn-stubble covered half the space. The carpenters at work on the house had tramped the soil down hard, and in a corner under the trees were the remains of countless weeds nipped by last year’s frost.”
Here’s what I loved about the entire experience of reading this book
- I first read it on my Kindle. Can you imagine telling Charles Barnard that one day a gardener (me) in the year 2012 would be reading his book on a portable electronic device, smiling in agreement about our common gardening experiences and sentiments?
- When the book was written, Charles (we’re on a first name basis) obtained his garden supplies through horse and buggy deliveries from various merchants in town. I can’t imagine he envisioned a future like we have now.
Charles has two main points:
- He carefully documents how frugal it is to grow your own fresh produce, recording all input costs to show that it makes sense financially, even when every crop does not thrive.
- And, he is smitten with the gardening experience, noting how it not only provides enjoyable exercise, but you can ‘bury’ any number of ‘headaches in a garden’. Works for me too! It was there that we became BFFs. Is it not completely lovely that this man living in the Victorian Era in the United States shares my exact sentiments about gardening and food growing one hundred and twenty years later in 21st Century Canada?
- Ironically, his budget for seeds and compost was not so different than my own today! I think we would have got along famously.
As I read it, I found myself imagining gardeners one hundred and twenty years from now:
- How will they get their garden information and will they still love the whole experience like we do?
- Will organic, small-scale gardening be the wave of the future, ensuring sustainability and healthy, fresh food for everyone?
The $20.49 in the title is how much he calculated he saved in 1887 by growing food in his garden. The download is free.
- My Handkerchief Garden. Size 25 x 60 feet. Results: a garden, fresh vegetables, exercise, health, and $20.49 (1889) by Charles Barnard
I hope you enjoy the book.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
- Rebuilding a Garden After a Flood | Joan Gussow’s story
- What Gardening is Really About | Monty Don
- An Epic Urban Veggie Garden | Carol Bowlby
- A Brilliant Intuitive Gardener | Ruth Stout
PS: This tells the story of how I came out as a front yard vegetable gardener. All these years later, it’s still a big decision.