Home gardens make good sense


POSTED: Tuesday, March 16, 2010

While President Barack Obama struggles to achieve health care reform in Congress, the first lady is finding success with her “;Let's Move!”; campaign encouraging families to improve their health by eating fresh and nutritional food. The White House garden that Michelle Obama launched a year ago has gained attention, and Honolulu residents have access to excellent schooling on how to replicate her success.

Mrs. Obama has used the 1,100-square-foot garden on the South Lawn as a platform for celebrating nutrition and discouraging obesity. The garden now is covered by “;hoop houses”; that help various crops survive the winter. Such temporary greenhouses are not needed at Manoa's Lyon Arboretum, where tutors tell visitors how to mimic the first family by turning lawns into landscaped gardens.

One of them is Zach Mermel — the landscape designer is holding a $40 class from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the arboretum — who says Hawaii is ideal for edible plants well-suited to the tropics, including those that grow for two or more years.

Homeowners should determine how the water “;branches”; on their property, Mermel told the Star-Bulletin's Ruby Mata-Viti. “;When you figure out where you want the garden to go around the house, design the pathways of the garden according to that branching pattern.”;

The result can be bountiful, as Michelle Obama has demonstrated with crops such as spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli, fennel, lettuce and other vegetables and herbs. At a startup cost of less than $200, the garden produced more than 1,000 pounds of vegetables in its first year.

The success has been noticed not only by visiting dignitaries but by hoi polloi. The National Gardening Association figures a 19 percent increase last year in the number of home-based fruit and vegetable gardens. A spokeswoman for W. Atlee Burpee & Co., a large seed company in Pennsylvania, reports a 30 percent increase in vegetable seed sales last year from 2008.

Elements of the growing popularity of home gardens, besides the low cost, are superior taste, lack of pesticides or chemicals used in industrialized farms, higher levels of nutrient.

The present White House garden is the first since Eleanor Roosevelt's “;victory garden”; during World War II, encouraging home gardens to make sure the troops had enough to eat. Today's garden comes at a time of an economic downturn and a rise in obesity. The time is right for self-sustainability — both in food-growing and in tending one's health.