Last week I stepped back in time a few hundred years. Gardening was quite different back then, and the contrast became quite vivid during a recent trip to historic Williamsburg for a taping of GardenSmart. The episode featured gardens and gardening practices from the 1700’s.
The modern conveniences we enjoy today were not an option in those earlier days, so they did things the “old fashioned” way. Thoroughly prepping the soil, adding compost and manure, and proactively monitoring the garden was simply standard garden operating procedure. Natural fertilizers and organic pest control methods kept gardens looking good in those days. Beneficial insect populations were high, and food crops were pesticide-free. With today’s time-starved demands from hectic schedules, we’re lucky to even have a garden – let alone take the time to proactively cultivate, monitor and protect it organically.
Back then, having a garden wasn’t a given either. In fact, it was a sign of status. The things we take for granted today, like turning on the spigot for instant access to water, weren’t in existence then. Instead, water had to be brought in from the nearest source. Even for those fortunate enough to have a well, pulling water up the shaft at 25 pounds per fill was an exhausting endeavor for anyone. Getting water to the garden was time-consuming and labor-intensive. Without hired help to keep plants hydrated, many gardens were abandoned by mid-summer.
Imagine life without tomatoes. Back then, they were still a crop suspected to be poisonous and, so, rarely grown. If they were part of the garden, only one or two tomato plants were included. Space was precious and reserved for the most productive crops.
Tomatoes were never eaten the way we enjoy them today. They were used exclusively in sauces and only on occasion. However, the tomatoes we enjoy now have evolved substantially in two centuries. I would imagine – if gardeners could have grown varieties like Sweet 100, Beefsteak or Brandywine – their gardens would look a lot more like ours.
Something else gardeners of that generation didn’t have is the arsenal of chemicals we use today without a second thought. Back then, fertilizers were compost and manure. Those were the primary ingredients needed to keep plants healthy and resistant to many pests and diseases. One thing these gardeners of old had that we lack – time. They were able to devote more time to paying attention to the important things, like staying in touch with how their garden was growing.
Today, we divide those same 24 daily hours a thousand different ways. It’s no wonder we reach for the “quick fix” without giving much thought to the price being paid to long-term health of our garden and beyond.