Growing Veggies Without The Garden

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UGA Honors Armitage With Prestigious AwardLast week, I was in Philadelphia eating lunch with a colleague — a bright young man from Mobile, Ala. He was very much invested in marketing, videography and photography and was now working with a horticulture company. We began to chat about this rather new industry to him, and he asked if I was doing anything “differently” in the world of plant marketing these days.

“Not really,” I said, “Just trying to help people be successful when they buy plants. Seems I’ve been doing that for some time.”

Troy looked up from his sandwich and asked, “What about people like me? I can’t garden, I live in an apartment and can only plant things on my balcony. I would like to use my balcony, but where do I even find information on flowers and vegetables? I don’t buy garden books; I’m too busy anyway.”

We talked for a little longer and then he said, “But I enjoy plants, especially strawberries, blueberries and vegetables. I would love to have a vegetable garden someday.”

Now that is the kind of discussion I love to have — a problem with a solution. Troy is 20-something, and being such, is tethered to his smart phone, checking it every minute or two, like so many of his friends. They just can’t help themselves.

So when I showed him my app, his eyes went wide — this was something he understood. Sure enough, my new non-gardening, never-will-buy-a garden-book friend immediately downloaded the app! Just like that, he had simple, easy-to-use information for annuals and perennials in his back pocket that he could use on his balcony. So tell me again, how difficult it is to reach young people?

“Troy,” I said, “You don’t have to have a vegetable garden to grow your fruits and veggies. Great things are happening with plants and all you need do is walk into your local garden center.”

I mentioned the breeding breakthroughs in blueberries, strawberries and even raspberries, all now available in balcony-friendly sizes.

“It is no longer about taking farm-bred fruits and shoe-horning them into containers on your deck. They have been bred for the deck, and the fruits are as tasty as the real thing.”

It is true — fruits like strawberries beg to be grown in your hanging baskets on the balcony and the new blueberries are plump, juicy and wonderfully ornamental, to boot.

“Raspberries?” he asked. Don’t get me started. Troy was thinking about fruit tumbling onto his cereal as I was speaking.

“And Troy, if you like peppers and eggplant, there is no end to the choices that await.”

When I looked up, he was already dreaming about his next salad, and maybe even about checking out the farmer’s market this year.

Today’s Garden Is On The Deck

The breeding in patio fruit and vegetables just keeps getting better. No longer must you stake and tie Better Boys in your balcony containers and then be happy when you get a tomato or two. Now there are tomatoes that are bushy — small in stature but large in fruit — as well as those that provide enough cherry tomatoes for summer salads, right there on your patio.

I have been trialing these new vegetables and some fruit for years, and I am on board. They are not the easiest sell for retailers, because to be honest, I don’t think we have let consumers know they are available to them. As for me, I don’t have the space for a big veggie garden at home, so my deck is alive with tomorrow’s salad.

If you haven’t come to terms with it yet, it is time — the garden of today is the deck (or patio, or balcony or veranda). The flower and/or vegetable garden will never go away, but the future is providing us with opportunities we never dreamed of 10 years ago. We have the vegetable and fruit breeding to help all those Troys in apartments, townhouses and condos. We have the solutions; let’s be sure we remember to sell them.

Even if Troy doesn’t believe a word I said, at least I made a buck and a half when he downloaded my app. Veggies and technology — it doesn’t get much better than that.

Allan Armitage was a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia for 30 years. He recently retired and remains an active consultant, author and lecturer.
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