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Robin Friedman: Dee Ridley, Master Gardeners kick off spring planting in Victory Garden
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On a very cold day in March 2012, members of the Hall County Master Gardener Class of 2012 assumed stewardship of the Victory Garden under the leadership of Toby Blackwell. Since then, it has come a long way thanks to the members’ loving regard and dedicated maintenance.

Adjacent to the Northeast Georgia History Center on Academy Street in downtown Gainesville, the garden sets where the Cottage Victoria house once was. The original fencing and raised beds still stand today, and they were built by the Fockele Garden Company.

Dee Ridley was the inspiration for the Victory Garden since she had one of her own during World War II. Her daughter, Joye, said she is still an avid gardener.

“Gardening keeps mother young,” she said.

And despite her 96 years at the time, the spunky Ridley joined the 2012 Hall County Master Gardener Class as they planted the spring produce, sharing stories along the way.

At the Victory Garden’s spring planting kickoff Wednesday, April 6, Ridley will be one of the featured dignitaries. The now-100-year-old will sew the first seed and handout homemade cookies. She has, in fact, been has saving hubbard squash seeds just for this significant occasion.

WWII veteran Bill Lance is expected to participate in the first planting, too.

Victory Gardens from the early 1940s became very popular among U.S. citizen, because vegetables and fruits were scarce due to the strain on resources as a result of the war. By growing their own food, families could withstand the shortage considerably.

In order to replicate a typical Victory Garden, the Hall County Master Gardeners kept a fairly close eye on its plant choices. They grew the main vegetables in an average wartime garden such as tomatoes, squash, beans, corn, carrots, okra and even Swiss chard, which was introduced to family gardens during this time.

Although, the gardeners have expanded the variety of vegetables and added fruits. They are growing potatoes, eggplants, cantaloupes, watermelons, peppers, cucumbers, collards, asparagus and blackberries along with herbs and pollinators.

The Master Gardeners also deviated from the tradition Victory Gardens by building an underground irrigation system. It has eliminated the very arduous task of hand watering.

But keeping the plants hydrated has proved problematic. The Master Gardeners lost a permanent water source at one time. Luckily, Roberts Plumbing and Gainesville Winnelson stepped in and donated the irrigation supplies after a new water source was found. They also provided the installation.

Since then, the garden has thrived and supplied community organizations such as My Sister’s Place, Our Neighbor Inc. and others with needed produce. As Victory Gardens supplemented the food for a family living on ratios during the war, it seemed fitting for the garden to maintain a similar purpose.

In 2015, more than 540 pounds of vegetables and fruits were donated. The bounty of the Victory Garden found its way into yummy dishes such as tomato sandwiches, tomato and crowder pea casserole, blackberry cobbler, tomato okra stew, stuffed peppers and many soup recipes.

Without a doubt, receiving emails of tremendous gratitude from those organizations — which have provided examples of how the residents have creatively used the fruit and vegetable donations — has been the most rewarding.

Robin Lynn Friedman is the Master Gardener coordinator for the Hall County Extension Office. She can be reached at robinf@uga.edu or 770-535-8293.