“The book of the month is unquestionably the seed catalog, which is to be found in the hands of gardeners, both novice and experienced, wherever a plot of ground is available for gardening.”
No, I haven’t gotten more eloquent in my writing (I wish). The above is an excerpt from a Chicago newspaper article from March 2, 1943!
As you may know, I’ve been head down for the last few months doing research for my lectures “Chicago Victory Gardens: Yesterday and Tomorrow” and, in the process, I’ve uncovered some incredible stories, information and facts.
The most touching (sobering?) thing I’ve realized is how people are people no matter what era they live in. Much of the gardening advice, ideas, passions I’ve uncovered could be shared by gardeners today. The words are generally more articulate, but the sentiment is the same.
[When I’m feeling creepy about it, I’m reminded of a plaque in the crypt of the Capuchin monastery in Rome that reads – AFTER you walk past gallery after gallery of stacked bones – “As you are now, we once were. As we are now, you will become.” But maybe that’s a bit depressing for the start of gardening season…]
Many people today are inspired by the notion of Victory Gardens. I am too… that’s what got me started researching the topic. As I dug into the specifics of Chicago’s participation in the Victory Garden effort most of my preconceived notions were quickly altered… mostly I was bowled over by how involved the citizens of Chicago were. And by the level of organization and planning required and the resulting civic pride. I’m really excited to tell people about it on Sunday, March 14 at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier and Sunday, March 28 at the Dank-Haus German Cultural Center in Lincoln Square. If you want to buy tickets, click the logo on the right!
But this isn’t an elaborate plug for the lectures – I promise – although I would love for you to be there because I’m so excited about this story.
In today’s post, I wanted to share what I’m calling “The Lost Victory Garden Seed List from 1943”. While digging through reams and reams of research materials, I found a suggested list of seeds for Chicago (Zone 5) Victory Gardens. The list was from Vaughan’s Seed Store, a Chicago-based seed company that started in the late 1800’s and also had an office in New York. I have not (yet) been able to find when Vaughan’s went out of business.
Being the curious type, I set about discovering which seeds are still in circulation for modern gardeners. Happily I was surprised to find that of the 36 varieties suggested, 73% are still available. Generally speaking, they are all available via small, specialty seed stores so I would still consider them rare. I did a basic Google search to find them and was pleased to find many new seed companies I had never seen before in the process. A deeper dive into the Seed Saver’s Exchange Yearbook might find availability for the 27% I couldn’t find via Google search or, perhaps, other sources for the ones I was able to find.
So, without further ado, here are the seeds Victory Gardeners were dreaming of 67 years ago… welcome to a look back to 1943…
- Benders Surprise: Couldn’t find but www.southernexposure.com claims Delicious 51 is descended from this melon.
- Hearts of Gold: www.botanicalinterest.com
- Pride of Wisconsin: www.heirloomseeds.com
- Champion Moss Curley: www.gurneys.com
- Early California Wonder: www.penyaseeds.com
- Harris Early Giant: Found historical reference, no seed
- Magnum Dulce: Found historical reference, no seed
- Sweet Banana: www.sustainableseedco.com
- Oshkosh: Found historical reference, no seed
- Marrofat: Found historical reference, no seed
- Short Thick: www.seeds.ca
- Golden Globe, Ideal White, Valencia Sweet Spanish: Found historical reference, no seed
- White Portugal: www.yankeegardener.com
- Cushaw; www.localharvest.org (NOTE: the green striped Cushaw is in Slow Food’s Arc of Taste. The list didn’t indicate what color… www.localharvest.org has a white version available).
For Part 2, I’ll share my findings regarding the following:
- Swiss Chard
If you have any information regarding the varieties I’ve outlined above, I’d love to hear them so please comment!