- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

They were 50 years apart. Waldo was an old timer, near 80. He had grown up poor on a farm in North Carolina. Will, pushing 30, was yuppie-ish if not a yuppie, with a degree in landscape architecture. Waldo was the grandfather of a friend.

What they had in common was the desire to plant a vegetable garden.

Waldo had been doing this all his life. He did it for the food. His goal was to grow the most food per square inch of land for the least financial investment.

Will was newer at the food angle. He wanted to design a beautiful kitchen garden with flowers and herbs as well as vegetables, planted in symmetrical spaces defined by little brick paths. His goal was to enhance the value of a home's property, visually and monetarily, while also growing vegetables.

Waldo and Will both had their eye on the same piece of land. It was in Damascus, in upper Montgomery County, and it was Will's. Waldo lived in an apartment in Gaithersburg. But Waldo jumped in first, busting sod and showing Will how an old pro enriches the soil by digging in dried cow manure. Cow manure, he said. Not horse manure. Will deferred to Waldo that year, getting a valuable education no school could teach.

They grew other gardens in subsequent years, and one year Will installed the yuppie garden he had first envisioned, with flowers and herbs and brick paths. But, he acknowledges, there has never been a garden so awesome as that first collaboration, that first "Waldo Garden'' of 10 years ago. That garden was about 50 feet by 30 feet, but a vegetable garden can be any size as long as it is in the sun.

The Waldo Garden is planted strictly in functional rows, rows of corn, tomatoes, peas, zucchini, yellow squash, peanuts, okra, bush beans, pole beans and anything else you like, but only vegetables that have proven to be hardy and bountiful and relatively pest free in the Washington area. Waldo, of course, knows what these are by experience.

A Waldo Garden 50 feet by 30 feet can handle 18 or 20 kinds of vegetables easily, producing bumper crops of each. You just need to know what to plant and how to do it.

For example, a Waldo Garden always contains the big juicy tomatoes known as Belgian Giants. For Waldo, the seeds are free. He either saves them himself from the previous year's harvest or a pal in southern Maryland gives him some. Actually, not a pal, but what Waldo calls an "outlaw" a relative of an in-law.

These old timers have been saving and planting Belgian Giant seeds for years, if not decades. They plant no other tomatoes. Waldo just takes one of the Belgian Giants at the end of the summer and places it on a fence post to dry out. Maybe he'll squash it down a bit with his fist. When it's ready, he harvests the seeds for next year's crop.

The Waldo Garden contains two kinds of potatoes red Pontiacs and white Kennebecs. These two are so good there's no point growing anything else, Waldo says. They produce lots and lots of potatoes that taste good and store well.

Waldo passes up all the yuppie seed catalogs with their pretty pictures and tempting garden accessories. He buys his supplies where farmers do, at Southern States Cooperative perhaps.

He never spends money on fancy tomato cages or supports for peas or pole beans. He cuts saplings when clearing the woods around his hunting cabin near Culpepper. That's what he hunts. Saplings. The saplings become support poles. Crisscrossed twigs support the sugar snap peas.

When the corn gets to be three or four feet tall, Waldo plants black-eyed peas at the bottom of the stalks and the corn stalks become the support poles for the black-eyed peas.

As he harvests each crop he plants another. The Waldo Garden is always full. "It wasn't an architectural treasure but it was nice," Will recalls of that first bountiful garden. "He never grew anything for its ornamental value and he didn't know the word 'culinary.'"

But Will said he had never seen so much good food. Pick the okra when it's no bigger than your finger for the best taste, Waldo advised Will. Never let the zucchini or other squash get big.

Waldo came almost daily, to hoe between the rows, water and harvest. At the end of the season, when just about everything was harvested, Waldo brought a small bag full of kale and turnip seeds mixed with some fertilizer. He scattered those seeds over the empty garden plot and didn't touch it again until it was time to harvest the kale and turnips, Will recalls, all winter even in the snow.

Waldo and Will both have moved in recent years and neither does much in the way of vegetable gardening any more. Waldo isn't as young as he used to be and Will has a herd of deer cramping his style.

But, who knows? Vegetable gardening season opens on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, when it is traditional to plant the first potato. Waldo always observed the day, even "floating" seed potatoes in the muddy soil in wet, inclement weather.

Whether Waldo and Will are out there, and whether you want a Waldo Garden or a Yuppie Garden, it's time to start planning it.

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