To honor the centennial of the Alabama Farmers Federation, let’s observe how gardening has changed over 100 years. The subject could fill a book, is fun to ponder and is a sure rabbit hole of memories and thoughts. To begin my research, I immediately sought input from gardening friends on Facebook, a 21st-century fount of information for gardeners. Folks concurred that availability, more options and technological advancements influenced our garden habits.
“It’s cyclical with the times…like fashion,” said Dani Carroll, a regional Extension agent in east-central Alabama. “I remember when lawns were the most popular topic out there. Now, I’m seeing lawn interest decline in favor of 2020 Victory Gardens and heritage plants.”
Shane Harris of Tallapoosa County Extension added, “My grandfather once said that each plant or tree around the home had to be edible, had to have a job. They even swept the yard and had no grass.”
Steve Bender, Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener, noted, “The ability to buy fresh produce year-round means people now garden because they want to, not because they have to.”
Indeed, gardening is more of a choice these days, with more emphasis on ornamentals. Rebecca Bull Koraytem, a sales executive with David Austin Roses, observed that, “New varieties have broad national appeal and thrive in a variety of soils and climates. When I first started my design career, I would put hours into choosing just the right variety. Now, I see the same varieties sold coast to coast. It’s all about making the gardener successful.”
Carol Reese of the University of Tennessee in Jackson pointed out the “year-round” availability of plants. Plastic containers were not around 100 years ago. Plants were sold as ball-and-burlap or dormant bare-root (and only during planting season). However, some gardeners noted the choice of vegetable varieties has decreased as seed companies have consolidated and focused more on commercial varieties.
Sam Wall, who spends time in both Pensacola, Florida, and Forest Home, Alabama, sees some bright spots in seed advancements.
“Collards are a hundred times better,” he said. “Now, you don’t even have to open the windows when you cook them!”
There is no doubt gardening has changed a lot in 100 years, but one thing has remained the same: Gardeners love to share!
Many of their observations on gardening shifts are listed below.
Lois Chaplin is an accomplished gardener and author. Her work appears here courtesy of Alabama Farmers Cooperative.