When it comes to gardening, I grew up like a lot of kids in the South. A little bit of first-hand experience and a good bit of influence here and there from various people in my life. My grandparents on both sides gardened. I think most in their generation who wheren't full bore urbanites living in big cities did. It was part of feeding the family before we had grocery stores that allowed us to have anything at any time or during any season.
My mom's parents lived in Charlotte. They lived in the same home my whole life until they passed and had the same garden year in and year out. A couple squash plants, tomato plants, cucumbers, peppers and various herbs. I remember the strip along their backyard fence clearly - they paid me each Fall and Spring to grab a shovel and turn the soil and mix in compost and leaves. That I recall, they really only grew food in the Summer, but most meals then had something from the yard in them. And pickles. My grandmother made fantastic pickles every Summer.
My other grandparents, my dads folks, provided the awe that more broad and intense gardening can be. They lived further away and I only remember glimpses of their gardens but I got to eat what they grew and foraged every time I'd visit. They lived in the mountains of North Carolina, near Mount Mitchell, on a Quaker commune. They had an orchard. They had a small greenhouse attached to their cottage/cabin and they did all they could to extend their other gardens throughout the year. They also foraged from the woods around them. I can remember long hikes collecting mushrooms that later appeared in dinner along with greens and veggies just picked. Their community had a cow that provided milk and butter. There was a cooperative nearby where they bought grains and other things they couldn't grow themselves.
The third influence for "bigger" gardening came from a set of step-grandparents I had for a few years until we moved on from the step-dad. I was around 11 or 12 when my mom got married to George. He was from the nearby town of Kannapolis and his folks where mill workers. Like a lot of poorer southerners, they grew all that they could. They had to. In addition to the "normal" stuff I was used to they grew corn, beans, okra, potatoes and a lot of other vegetables that are staples around here. They didn't just have a plant or two like I was used to seeing, but a field of them. They canned and saved and dried all they could. Dinner at their home was classic southern, all from the fields, and simmered in butter.
Growing up in my home we gardened a little. It was just my mom and me and our gardening was more tinkering. We didn't have a garden everywhere we lived, but from time-to-time we'd plant a couple tomato plants, cucumbers, peppers, etc. The easy stuff around here. I remember the time a huge storm flooded the yard where we lived (we moved a lot - I still do) and washed everything away. Of course losing the garden didn't really affect us, we didn't live or depend on any of our produce but had the garden as a hobby.
For myself I fell away from gardening for the most part after entering high school. I played football and did everything that normal teen kids do, which didn't include anything like worrying about a vegetable garden. Then it was off to college and you can't really grow much in or around an apartment or dorm.
When I graduated and moved back to Charlotte my roommate and I planted zucchini, corn, peppers and tomatoes at a rental home right across from Southpark Mall - not something common in that area and neighborhood, especially not in the side yard clearly visible from the road. From there I moved from place to place, never really gardening, never really thinking about it, building a business and a career. This was in the early 90's.
Jump to 2008 / 2009. The recession had just hit and I work in real estate. My legs were knocked out from under me as my business built over almost two decades dissappeared in a matter of months. A year earlier we had moved to a high-rise condo in Uptown Charlotte and now we had to get out (she was nice, but she was expensive!). We ended up in a home just outside the Uptown loop in an urban neighborhood, Wilmore. Great older homes, small lots - still urban living but now back with a yard. We reconnected with friends who also lived in Wilmore. They gardened. They encouraged us to as well, following a couple afternoons wandering their garden and meeting their chickens. They even helped us get set up. We put a couple raised beds in our front yard and planted a handful of plants. And battled squirrels. The next year we added a couple more beds plus fruit trees to line the fence in the back.
We moved a year later and we took our fruit trees with us. The new place had an extra lot that came with it, one of the reasons we wanted to move there. We used the back of that lot to build 8 raised beds surrounded by our figs, apples, peaches and nectarines. We loaded the landscaping all around the home with herbs and edibles and at one point counted over 60 edible plants in the yard and garden: pecan trees, fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs and vegetables. This was when we really started to get into trying to provide as much for our kitchen from our yard as possible.
Our next move was 2013 - to a permanent home in NoDa which we purchased and have dubbed "Linwell Farms". One of the huge deciding factors when we started looking for a home to settle into and buy was space to garden. That and being in an urban center city neighborhood - as much as we love "farming" we are also city boys at heart. In addition to being less than a block from the nightlife and dining strip in NoDa, this place had the perfect set up for urban gardening: a large 65' x 30' concrete pad in the back - perfect for a greenhouse and weed-free raised beds - a large lot (for an urban neighborhood) with good light and plenty of places to put in fruit trees, grapes, berries, etc.
As I write this we've not been here a full year. Winter is in full swing and it's coooollldddd outside. The greenhouse (our first venture with one) didn't keep some things alive like we'd hoped and our citrus trees have been moved into the house and most of our orchids froze during the Christmas break when we were out of town. It's fine though - gardening isn't necessarily intended to be a fast experience, but a long path learning what to do, how to do it, what works best where you are. Gardening is a long term project. We've already been planning and plotting - where to move what we grew last year, ordering seeds, adding fruit trees and generally getting ready for our late Winter / early Spring plantings. That and planning for the Summer garden when things around here are most bountiful.
I can't wait to get back outside, to get my hands dirty and work in the garden. I can't wait to put plants in the ground that will feed us. I can't wait to watch what we plant grow and I especially can't wait for that first homegrown tomato.