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The Victory Garden

Posted On June 15, 2017 | 11:42 am | by Dumbarton Oaks Archives | Permalink

During the Second World War, Dumbarton Oaks undertook many activities to contribute to the war effort. The gardens were opened for relief functions, including the British War Relief for Refugee Children in England (1942), the Scottish Evacuation Plans Committee for the benefit of the Scottish War Relief (1942), and the Commission for Polish Relief (1943). On at least two occasions in 1944, buffet suppers were served in the gardens to convalescent servicemen from Walter Reed Hospital under the auspices of the Home Hospitality Committee, Civilian War Services. Dumbarton Oaks also assisted the Arts and Skills Corps of the American Red Cross in their work at the Forest Glen Hospital, an annex of the Walter Reed Hospital. Dumbarton Oaks lent equipment, supplies, and personnel to install a small bindery for the purpose of teaching convalescent soldiers the art of bookbinding.

Dumbarton Oaks also had a victory garden, which had, since at least 1927, produced vegetables for the estate. Although, in 1941, director John Thacher had questioned the utility of the vegetable garden and doubted whether growing produce was economical, by 1943, the popularity of victory gardens in America had convinced Thacher, as well as garden adviser Beatrix Farrand and Mildred Bliss, that, at least symbolically, it was important to maintain the vegetable garden. Victory gardens, which were also known as war gardens and food gardens for defense, were being planted at private residences and in public parks throughout America during the war. Their utility was to reduce pressure on the public food supply, thereby indirectly aiding the war effort. Perhaps more importantly, however, these gardens became morale boosters during the dark days of war, in that amateur gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce they grew. This made victory gardens a popular part of daily life on the home front.

Dumbarton Oaks, for its part, also set about to instruct victory gardeners in the science of gardening. Several times between March and May 1943, James Bryce, head gardener at Dumbarton Oaks, held on-site demonstrations to show the elementary techniques of preparing and planting a victory garden. These demonstrations were given to members of the American Women’s Voluntary Services and other interested Washington citizens. Bryce covered the topics of soil preparation, seed sowing, fertilization, and irrigation. To aid the Washington, D.C., victory garden movement, Robert Woods Bliss also offered a half-acre plot of land at Massachusetts Avenue and Whitehaven Street to interested victory gardeners.

Second World War Victory Garden Posters

WWII Victory Garden Poster