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Modern vision of the vegetable garden

A woman crosses an alley of the Food Garden at the Montreal Botanical Garden.
Photo: Space for Life (Claude Lafond)
A woman carries a cart through a flower garden.

Gardening is in fashion these days.

In the United States, the gardening industry generates billions of dollars in annual revenues.

People garden but, with few exceptions, no longer do so to save money. Global trade now brings a wide variety of fresh produce into our supermarkets and to our tables year-round. Instead, we have gardens to grow fresh food that we can eat as soon as we pick it; any surplus is canned or frozen, and quality control is managed by avoiding the use of chemical pesticides and non-organic fertilizers.

Whether hobby gardeners decide to grow plants from seed or not, they can choose the varieties of vegetables and herbs they want and that make a valuable contribution to meeting at least some of their family’s nutritional needs.

Working in one’s vegetable garden has become a leisure activity. For some people, it’s a wonderful way to spend time together as a family, choosing the seeds, planting the seedlings, weeding the plot and picking the ripe vegetables. It has also merged with the home garden through the addition of flowers for cutting, making it both beautiful and practical. It can even include exotic edible plants from all over the world or unusual varieties that are too expensive or impossible to find at the supermarket.

Hobby gardeners with small plots will shun space-greedy squash and pumpkin plants and instead choose plants that are easier to train up.

The preparation techniques and appearance of the vegetable garden have likewise evolved. Today it is easy to rent or even buy a rototiller to turn over the soil. Using mulch or geotextile materials to control weeds, following specific growing methods to encourage “green” plant growth, adding or alternating vegetables in a medley of colours, ornaments, paths and square or raised beds are all elements that have played a role in changing the image of the modern vegetable garden.

Nevertheless, in recent years many suburban vegetable gardeners have turned their sights to ornamental gardens, although it must be said that young families are reversing the trend. Other owners develop such specialized gardens as the fragrant ones that are  gaining in popularity.

Lastly, community gardens, seen as a community leisure activity or occupational therapy, have made kitchen gardens an integral part of the urban fabric. The modern vegetable plot combines both modern knowledge and enjoyment, but ultimately it is not much different from the ones that fed all those who lived here before us.

Based on an article by Céline Arseneault and Daniel Fortin in Quatre-Temps magazine, 18(1): 20-23.

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