This year many are thinking about growing their own vegetable garden. Growing food and being more self-sufficient is a common reaction in times of national struggle. Perhaps the most well-known vegetable gardening campaign occurred during World War II – Victory Gardens.

In 1944, about 20 million Victory Gardens provided 8 million tons of food or roughly 40 percent of all the produce consumed in the United States that year. These home-based vegetable gardens freed agriculture and transport businesses to focus their efforts on getting food to the troops overseas. It also raised morale on the home front: gardeners knew their actions helped support the troops and diversified their diets.

Smithsonian Gardens has a demonstration vegetable garden–a modern Victory Garden–on the east side of the National Museum of American History. This Victory Garden helps brings an exhibit inside the museum, Within These Walls, to life. It shows how a wide variety of vegetables can be grown in a relatively small space.

So how can you start your own Victory Garden?

First, identify an area to plant vegetables. Most vegetables grow best in full sun. If you don’t have a sunny spot to support a garden, perhaps there are community garden plots in your neighborhood. Maybe a neighbor would be willing to share their yard for a “cut” of the harvest. Sunny balconies and patios can provide space for an edible container garden. Maybe there is space inside your home; shelves outfitted with LED grow lights are perfect for a containerized herb garden.

Then decide if you want to grow the vegetables from seed or buy transplants from garden centers or big box stores. For a truly local experience, seed swap with other gardeners.

A family eating at picnic table in their backyard circa 1950sFinally, decide when and what to plant. Grow what you and your family like to eat, especially if this is your first time growing a vegetable garden. There will be plenty of time to try new vegetables if your first attempt is successful. Nothing is more discouraging than seeing disapproving food critics around the dinner table after spending months tending a garden.

In the Washington, D.C. area we reliably have three full growing seasons, with many cool-season plants that can overwinter. In the Smithsonian’s Victory Garden, we grow cool-season crops like lettuce, broccoli, kale, and peas in early spring and in the fall. Spinach, kale and other greens can be harvested during the winter or in early spring. Perennial herbs like sage, hardy rosemary ‘Arp’, lavender, thyme and hyssop can be planted in the spring and stay in the ground for years.

Tomatoes on a bamboo supportIn May, Smithsonian Gardens sets out seedlings of warm-season crops like tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplants, tea hibiscus, and okra. Beans and cucumbers are started by seed and supported on trellises. Corn, squash, pumpkins and melons are sown directly into the ground, sometimes in a bit of raised earth. We start trellising perennial hop vines in May and harvest garlic in June.

We harvest the warm-season crops all summer and plan what we are going to grow in the fall. In September, hops are harvested and individual cloves of garlic are planted. In October, we plant more kale and lettuce and cool-season crops and sprinkle in pansies and violas for color. These flowers are tasty and colorful additions to salads as long as they are grown organically.

Below is a list of edibles we have successfully grown in the Victory Garden. Try one or several in your 2020 Victory Garden. Happy gardening from the Horticulture team at Smithsonian Gardens’ Victory Garden.


  • Carrot: Amarillo, St. Valery
  • Lettuce: Bronze Arrow, Forellenschuluss, Black-Seeded Simpson, Tennis Ball
  • Kale Red Russian: Early Curled Siberian Kale
  • Onion: Red Wethersfield, Siskiyou Sweet
  • Peas: Alderman Tall Telephone, Corne De Belier, Green Arrow
  • Radish: Red Meat, White Icicle


  • Basil: Lettuce Leaf, Mrs. Burns Lemon
  • Beans, Bush: Black Pencil Podded
  • Beans, Pole: Kentucky Wonder (‘Old Homestead’), Dow Purple Podded, Good Mother Stallard
  • Beans, Lima: Red Calico
  • Corn, Popcorn: Strawberry
  • Corn, Sweet: Stowell’s Evergreen, Golden Bantam, Texas Honey June
  • Cucumber: Lemon, Early Russian, Suyo Long
  • Eggplant: Black Beauty, Rosa Bianca
  • Muskmelon: Hale’s Best, Pike
  • Okra: Clemson Spineless
  • Pepper: California Wonder (Sweet), Marconi (Sweet), Black Czech (Hot) Fish Pepper (Hot), Poblano (Hot)
  • Pumpkin: Rouge Vif D’Etampes (Cinderella pumpkin), harvest in fall
  • Squash, Summer: Yellow Crookneck, Cocozelle Bush
  • Squash, Winter: Blue Hubbard, leave in to harvest in fall
  • Tomato: Yellow Pear, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple
  • Watermelon: Moon and Stars, White Wonder


  • Beets: Detroit Dark Red, Bull’s Blood, Chioggia
  • Broccoli: Calabrese
  • Cabbage: Early Jersey Wakefield
  • Carrot: Amarillo, St. Valery, same as spring crop
  • Cauliflower: All-Year-Round
  • Lettuce: like spring, Bronze Arrow, Forellenschuluss, Black-Seeded Simpson, Tennis Ball
  • Kohlrabi: Purple Vienna
  • Parsley: Extra Curled Dwarf
  • Parsnip: Sugar Hollow Crown
  • Radish: Red Meat, White Icicle
  • Spinach: Viroflay, Bloomsdale Long Standing
  • Swiss Chard: Ruby
  • Turnip: Purple-Top White Globe