Victory Garden at National Museum of American History
Re-creating a World War II vegetable and flower garden
Using a design from a 1943 pamphlet, the Smithsonian Gardens is re-creating a World War II victory garden on the terrace outside the National Museum of American History's cafeteria. The 130-foot-long garden contains over 50 varieties of vegetables and flowers that change with the seasons. The vegetables are heirloom species, older varieties that were available to gardeners during and before the1940s. Each plant has a different growing season, so that what you see will change depending on what season you're visiting.
What Is a Victory Garden?
Victory gardens were vegetable gardens planted during the world wars in order to ensure an adequate food supply for civilians and troops. Government agencies, private foundations, businesses, schools, and seed companies all worked together to provide land, instruction, and seeds for individuals and communities to grow food.
From California to Florida, Americans plowed backyards, vacant lots, parks, baseball fields, and school-yards to set out gardens. Children and adults fertilized, planted, weeded, and watered in order to harvest an abundance of vegetables.
Colorful posters and regular feature articles in newspapers and magazines helped to get the word out and encouraged people to stick with it. The goal was to produce enough fresh vegetables through the summer for the immediate family and neighbors. Any excess produce was canned and preserved for the winter and early spring until next year's victory garden produce was ripe.
Throughout the World War II years, millions of victory gardens in all shapes and sizes-from window boxes to community plots-produced abundant food for the folks at home. While the gardens themselves are now gone, posters, seed packets, catalogs, booklets, photos and films, newspaper articles, diaries, and people's memories still remain to tell the story of victory gardens.
Plan your visit to include the exhibition Within These Walls… on the 2nd floor of the National Museum of American History. There you will find a two-and-a-half-story New England house, orginally built in the 1700s. Discover the stories of five ordinary families who lived in the house over 200 years and experienced the great events of American history.
One story features Mary Scott and her family, who lived in this house during World War II and contributed to the war effort. View the kitchen where Mary Scott preserved vegetables grown in her victory garden. Part of Mary's support of the war was growing and preserving her own food, shopping with ration coupons, and saving tin cans, foil, and leftover fat for recycling into war material.
Learn about Mary's son Roy, who fought in the Pacific, her daughter Annie, who made war materials in a local factory, and her grandson Richard, who helped his grandmother in the victory garden and the kitchen.