Keeping Up With the Jones’ and All Your Other Clients, Too!

by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP

We know the public is more educated than ever, with online tools, search engines, and bookmarked websites providing the ability to search, scan, and save information about planning and caring for personal gardens. Your work with clients can be enhanced by your ability to keep up with their information sources and your awareness of what they are most interested in! With the WFH (Work From Home) time your customers spend online, check out what’s trending! There’s a big buzz about “edible landscapes” and “Victory Garden” searches are increasing. Coronavirus has created a concern about healthy food sources, even exceeding the recent increase for organically-grown vegetables grown locally. Homeowners are asking for some space, in containers, raised beds, or a dedicated area, of their lawns and landscapes, to be available for home-grown vegetables. That type of land care is fully in your skill set as a landscape professional, too! Offering advice as well as actually preparing a bed with soil testing, soil amendments, and building the bed itself or recommending a reputable supplier of raised bed kits, sets the landscaper up for an increased credibility with customers. And where to start? Let’s look at a quick history of “Victory Gardens.”

In 1917, Charles Lathrop Pack, established the National War Garden Commission. It’s believed that he was one of the wealthiest people in the US at that time, as a successful timber man and investor. Pack had some revolutionary ideas, which we see coming around again with urban garden movements and urban garden leaders. It was his leadership starting the National War Garden Commission that encouraged people to “identify, and plant on land that is otherwise unused for agriculture.” That meant people began planting on school sites, factory medians, areas around housing estates and other unused open spaces. Compare that frame of mind to our leaders in urban gardening today, such as Ron Finley – the “guerilla gardening” founder, who planted along a hellstrip in Los Angeles to use that space precisely as Pack had suggested nearly a hundred years earlier. To help in areas known as food deserts, Finley’s actions with those plantings set the Los Angeles law banning planting in that space to be reformed, known as the “Residential Parkway Landscaping Guidelines.” Doug Tallamy has presented information at recent workshops and written about identifying and using land along those areas for gardening and food production. Pack “led the pack” with his outlook and action!

Flash forward to the throes of WWII, when the Victory Garden movement was propagated by James Burdett. Burdett’s Victory Garden Manual was perhaps the most important civilian document to come out in the second half of the 1940s. In this book, Burdett was responding to the fact that civilians had taken the call to garden so food otherwise produced in factories or on larger scale, could be sent to the troops of WWII. This manual was disseminated to Women’s Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, and local benevolent societies, who relied on its information to join the gardening movement. It is estimated that 40% of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the US were grown in Victory Gardens.

The War Garden Commission gave rise to the idea Burdett had for Victory Gardens – and his founding of the National Garden Bureau. Now, in 2020, the NGB is celebrating its 100th Anniversary. Burdett had used his background as a writer and broadcaster to educate millions of people on aspects of gardening that they may not have otherwise had access to. Burdett had also been an advertising executive for a seed catalog company, which gave him a lot of experience in writing factual, informative, and enticing copy material to help lead readers to a common focal point.

COVID19 is instigating a concern for healthier eating and surety in food sources, so the Victory Garden 2.0 movement is growing more and more common. This comes right on the heels of a growing taste for, and interest in, organically grown food sources. There is almost an overabundance of information available on the home grown edible garden movement. If you check the National Garden Bureau website, you will see clear graphics outlining the Victory Garden 2.0 important points, which you will recognize from your experience as landscapers. Included in the bulleted points are topics such as “Know Your Zone,” “How to Choose Starting from Seed or Transplanted Plugs,” “Soil Testing,” “Choosing Raised Beds or Container Gardening,” and maybe most importantly, “Grow What You Like to Eat.” Check out the National Garden Bureau (ngb.org) for additional materials on Pollinator Gardens as another resource for your professional development.

The NGB is highly invested in promoting commercial vendors in their outreach, too. Check the tab on webinars and see the many, many businesses and suppliers you already work with, to access their informative and up-to-date You Tube libraries. Besides these videos, there are quite a few books you may want to add to your professional library. Take a look at the books for sale, which includes many by Dr. Allan Armitage. Foodscape Revolution: Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in Your Garden by Brie Arthur could give you a lot of valuable, actionable ideas, to suggest to clients who may be asking for edibles in their landscape. EcoBeneficial’s founder, Kim Eierman, wrote The Pollinator Victory Garden: Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening. It’s a comprehensive guide to the ways you can help your customers understand the roles bees, butterflies, bats, moths, beetles, and others, play in keeping our gardens, yards, and open wild areas healthy and producing the foods we take for granted.

Take the ideas of an edible garden, mix in liberally with a previous monoculture of an expansive mowed lawn, and sow some natives in with the colorful annuals you are comfortable with, and your clients will rely on you more than ever to help answer their questions and clarify things they are reading about everyday in trendy online stories!