Secret Gardens

One of the things always strikes me in my trips to Greece is the use of public space for growing food. Orange trees are the most common thing, ringing town squares in Kalamanta and Argos. Even near the Acropolis in Athens, herbs grow. Coming home to Denver, I walk the streets and wonder why we don’t plant more fruit trees. (I am not counting crab-apples here). At the least, they’d give the homeless something to eat.

The NYTimes posted an article today on people using their backyards as mini-orchards, which frankly just strikes me as a good idea. They even cited Meyer’s lemons, two of which I grow in my living room. While my “harvest” isn’t exactly going to provide a foodstuff, it’s a neat party trick to ask a guest to pick a lemon.

In fantasy, we deal a lot with medieval traditions and medieval lifestyles. While I try not to write too much about a character bathing or brushing her teeth, I do think about the differences in hygiene. Food sources are a principal concern in a medieval society, so I’m becoming entranced by the idea of urban gardens, walled away and struggling for sunlight.

In our generation we have gotten away from some of the more practical construction and land uses of the pre-War generation. It’s regrettable that our office buildings never get a blast of fresh air, that we don’t use more natural lighting, and particularly that we don’t maintain our connection to the earth by growing some of our own food. As power becomes scarcer, we turn to solar, but why not skylights as well? Don’t get me started on grey water, why aren’t we doing this in every house (particularly here in the west, where water rights are a growing concern). Okay, I’m a tree-hugging dirt-worshipper as my friend Jacinta has said, but I find it interesting that as times get a little harder, we start looking back as well as forward. The medieval period was the dirtiest in history, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a few practical things about life from it.

We’ve separated our urban selves from the natural cycles of life and death. What we might give back to the land, we flush away. What we take from the land is delivered to us from far away. But a fantasy character, even an urban one, doesn’t have such a strong separation from the food cycle. Then again, she may not have a toothbrush either.

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