Imagine a moment when all citizens turn their hand to urban agriculture. Imagine the resilience possibilities at the local level that all that additional vegetable growing might bring about. Historically, societies have turned to the vegetable garden as a way of dealing with crises. The Jardin botanique de Montréal is no exception. If you feel inclined to take up the challenge this summer, which vegetables should you choose to grow? Which ones are easiest, the most productive, and which ones keep best?
Resilience is in the vegetable garden
On May 7, 1936, 84 years ago, Brother Marie-Victorin entrusted landscape architect Henry Teuscher with the responsibility of drawing up the development plans for the plot of land that would become the Jardin botanique de Montréal. In other words, it was during the Great Depression of the 1930s that the garden saw the light of day. The large-scale project made it possible to lessen the effects of the economic crisis, with the hiring of thousands of the unemployed. It was in that context that Teuscher would be the visionary behind the first “economical garden” in Montréal, an immense demonstration vegetable garden.
Then the Second World War arrived, and other challenges took their place in the difficult economic context. In various parts of the world, authorities invited citizens to grow a “victory garden” at home: a vegetable garden that would enable them in a concrete and personal way to ease the shortage of fresh vegetables. Today, an unprecedented health crisis is prompting us to turn once again to the vegetable garden.
In order to have continuous and abundant production, certain vegetables are better than others. With generous yields in the spring and in late summer, green beans and peas are obvious choices. If space allows, zucchini and cucumbers also provide good yields when planted in full sun and harvested frequently. Radishes, beets, lettuce and spinach can be sown successively throughout the season. Herbs, meanwhile, are easy to grow, and ideal for drying at the end of the season for use as seasonings in recipes throughout the winter.
In Québec it’s impossible to grow in the winter unless you have a greenhouse or specialized equipment. That being the case, to stock up before the cold season, certain vegetables are especially interesting because they last a long time when kept in ideal conditions. Potatoes, onions, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), small turnips, parsnips, salsify, cabbage and autumn squash are all good options. They’ll stand the test of time if you store them in a dark, cool spot. But be careful, the humidity level required for preservation will vary depending on the vegetables. Do your research!
You can also process or marinate your vegetables to extend their lifetime. Have you always dreamed of canning your tomatoes or beets or maybe making your own pickles, your salsa or pesto from the garden? 2020 is an ideal year for launching what could become a cozy family ritual. Also look into fermented vegetables ‒with their remarkable health benefits ‒ by devising your own sauerkraut or kimchi!
Yesterday’s economical garden, renamed the Food Garden today, is a space that our visitors still find very interesting. This year, the Garden of Innovations will introduce an additional spaced devoted to vegetable growing. That educational demonstration kitchen garden will help inspire and guide citizens in their food gardening projects at home. The vegetables grown here will be turned over, as they are every year, to neighborhood collective kitchens.
The basic intention of the founders of the Jardin botanique was a heritage that lives on in the vocation of the garden’s horticulturists, who are driven by the same values of solidarity and education.