The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South

Tire plantersWhen I was a youngster, our nearest neighbor's front yard was decked out with a huge tire, painted white and filled with flowers.  A metal glider and chairs, also painted white, stood nearby under the shade of a large catalpa, just waiting for a visitor to come by and sit for a spell.  There were flowers --- nearly all annuals that were easy to grow from seed, like marigolds and cockscomb --- and a blooming bush.  Across the yard was a pen of chickens, then the barn, and in the other direction was the vegetable garden, laid out in straight rows.  The couple clearly spent considerable time, though little money, keeping their yard in impeccable shape.

Although my neighbors were white, their space could have graced the pages of Richard Westmacott's African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South, with the notable lack of a hog butchering station and a swept dirt floor.  Westmacott analyzed the yards of  47 rural families spread across Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, focusing on folks who had reached or passed middle age.  If there was such a thing as a traditional Southern, African-American garden, he wanted to find it.

African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural SouthAnd he did see similarities, many noted in my opening paragraph.  Rather than being showcased landscapes, the yards were subsistence gardens where work and leisure intermingled.  In most cases, the yard had become an extension of the house, the spot for a family barbecue or hog butchering session.

But where did the similarities come from?  Could they be traced back to the families' heritage in western Africa, to their slave background, or were the similarities simply the common byproduct of being poor in the South?

While you're waiting for the next installment of this lunchtime series, check out a unique deer deterrent method I found in the book.

This post is part of our African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Although they didn't have a hog butchering station, our neighbors did have a ham curing shed, right above the pumphouse. A lot of pea shelling and stringing green beans for canning went on under that catalpa tree.
Comment by Errol Mon May 10 12:53:17 2010

I don't think I realized that was a ham curing shed --- makes their yard even more like the ones in the book!

I should also add that Mom pointed out that their planters were painted blue, not white. My memory obviously failed me.

Comment by anna Mon May 10 13:48:32 2010
Sounds like a fun book! I've been enjoying the catalpa blooms in my neighborhood this week, they almost look like make-believe! I think catalpa flowers are what happens when foxgloves and orchids merge.
Comment by Eliza Mon May 10 18:44:44 2010

I recommend it --- a fast read with lots of pictures!

Every year, I'm tempted to plant a catalpa, and every year I realize that I can't bear to take any space away from future fruit trees. :-) I love them, though!

Comment by anna Mon May 10 21:15:48 2010

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