Gardens are a thing in my part of the country. Not pretty suburban-type flowerbeds, those explosions of color that concentrate nature on quarter-acre lots, although I admire both the expertise and dedication required to squeeze so much variety into a small enough space to produce a magazine cover-worthy garden.
No, I'm talking about vegetable gardens. They're part of the culture. Not a phenomenon, not a fad. Before locavorism, before foodies and urban gardens, before the Back To The Land movement of the '70's, before the Victory Garden, around here, there was hunger. Among the locals, the older people--actually, among just about everyone who hasn't moved in from Somewhere Else--when you talk about a garden, you're talking about a vegetable garden.
When visiting, it's considered good manners to compliment the host's garden, even if it's a little bedraggled or weedy. But if a garden is totally out of control--plants buried under mountains of lamb's quarter, pigroot and bindweed, crawling with potato bugs, harlequin beetles and Mexican bean beetle larvae--it's better form to ignore the garden and instead inquire about the health of the family, because surely someone must be sick to have let it run down so. (This is only a slight exaggeration.) Old school men who wouldn't be caught dead admiring a dahlia will wax rhapsodic about the color and size of bush beans, and without risk to their manly reputations. Old school women inspect corn, comparing relative stalk height, ear size, and straightness of rows. (This, too, is only a slight exaggeration.) Both carefully record the date of the first tomato harvested--variety, when planted , and whether the seed was saved or gifted.
I've already indulged in two exaggerations. But no more. And it's no exaggeration to say that we take our gardens seriously, with reason.