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Kip Anderson
Gardener Kip Anderson

November: Why Garden?

Giving his soil a break, Kip digs deep into his soul to discuss the motives, purposes and perks of gardening
by Kip Anderson

Why would anyone of sound mind go to all the trouble of growing fruit and vegetables when the supermarket produce aisles are full to bursting with a plethora of offerings from across the country, from up and down the hemisphere, and from around the world? Well, there are several answers to this question.

Practicality. No matter how quickly produce is brought to market, fruit and vegetables picked from your own garden will be fresher. If you so desire, your own produce can be grown completely free of toxic contaminants. You get to select from among the many hundreds of unusual varieties never seen in the mass market, which are sometimes chosen for superior flavor or other winning qualities and sometimes because a particular fruit or vegetable is not available at all. Certain foods, such as raspberries and witloof chicory, are typically rather expensive and may be worth growing for that reason alone.

Pride. Does having the earliest spring salad greens or the first ripe tomato in your neighborhood appeal to you? Then how about the best heads of lettuce anyone has ever seen or tasted, or bouquets of boreal kale? Welcome to my antioxidant jungle!

A third category of reasons has to do with cosmic, or at least cosmopolitan, issues. Civilization as we know it is possible when, and only when, gardening (or its larger-scale extension, farming) is seriously undertaken, allowing and perhaps even requiring long-term tenancy in a location endowed with arable land. From permanent settlements arise the opportunity for the rudiments of modern industry, such as forges and water mills, and for that most precious commodity, leisure time; for libraries and all the other trappings of culture we would be loath to do without. In short, to garden is to partake of the human activity most fundamental to civilized life.

It is ironic then that, for many of us, the impulse to garden for the sake of sustenance has been sublimated into a desire to create gardens for the sake of their beauty — ironic but appropriate, considering our urbane drift away from the purely utilitarian. Fruit and vegetable gardening may be a hobby, a quaint throwback to earlier, more difficult times, but it is also a noble calling of the highest order.

Kip Anderson has been the Victory Garden's head gardener for over 20 years.

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Published August 31, 2007