Gardening is patriotic.

For us in the United States, it’s an all-American red-white-and-blue thing to do. It is probably just as patriotic for residents of other countries.

We all have read about how gardening was patriotic in the past. During both World Wars, people planted Victory Gardens in their backyards in response to food shortages and rationing. The gardens relieved pressure on farmers and other food producers, which were short of labor because men were fighting the wars.

But the history of patriotic gardening goes back a lot further than that. During the country’s Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, delegates often worked out their differences while walking through the gardens and nursery created by John Bartram. Bartram found and developed many ornamental plants that are still in use in gardens today and sold some to George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as well as many other important people of that time.

You don’t have to go back decades or even centuries to show how gardeners make our nation better and stronger.

A thriving vegetable garden is shown in this archive photo. Many Maine gardeners who grow vegetables contribute some of the bounty to the hungry. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Many vegetable gardeners purposely grow more food than they need so they can give away the extra to those who need it. Some gardeners just give the over-abundance – and not just giant zucchini, either – to their neighbors. Others drop off extra produce at local food pantries.

Harvest for Hunger is a program coordinated by Master Gardeners and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in which people grow food for soup kitchens and food pantries to help get food to people who need it.

New England Garden Clubs, after the two-year term in which Suzanne Bushnell of Harpswell was director, won a national award for its Fighting Food Insecurity project, in which more than 18,332 pounds of produce and $21,461 in cash were donated to food banks in the region.

Not all gardeners grow food – at least not enough to give away. Maybe they don’t have enough property for a vegetable garden or that isn’t where their interests lie. But gardeners still make the nation, and the world, a better place.

The planet’s biggest threat is climate change, with temperatures getting warmer everywhere but especially in the polar regions. The science says that the major cause of warmer temperatures is carbon dioxide – released by planes, trains and automobiles, as well as factories, burning fossils fuels. The plants that gardeners grow feed on carbon dioxide and store it, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Trees capture more than the shorter-lived perennials, but all plants store carbon in their roots as well as leaves, stems and branches that are above ground.

People might think that what they can grow on a quarter-acre suburban lot won’t make a difference. And to be frank, it won’t. But if it’s a movement, if millions of people on quarter-acre lots all over the nation and world make an effort to grow long-lived plants, the total can make a big difference.

Gardeners also cut down on carbon emissions in other ways. By harvesting vegetables and cutting flowers on their own property, they eliminate the pollution of transporting that produce from far-away gardens. The food and flowers are just a walk away, which as a side benefit is good exercise – and that produces no pollution.

Composting garden and kitchen waste yourself also helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Not only does it not have to be hauled to the transfer station – by you or professional collectors – but the material, once broken down, adds organic matter (carbon, in other words) to your soil.

Native plants in the garden, like this swamp milkweed, help native species, like this monarch butterfly and caterpillar. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Gardening helps the environment, and the nation, in other ways. More people are growing at least some native plants, which as we all now know support native birds and other wildlife, which are gravely threatened by climate change and habitat loss.

Finally, gardening makes us feel better about ourselves. We are outside getting exercise – especially if we eschew pollution-spewing power tools – and showing some independence from the world that seems to be intruding more all the time – and not just by robocalls and spam emails.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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