The other day when I was discussing the sad fate of my prolific backyard garden with the sister of another Vancouver tenant who is also losing her backyard plot to one of Vancouver’s new laneway houses, I was reminded of one of my favourite childhood books: Old Macdonald Had an Apartment House.
I reread this book over and over, delighting in the concept of an entire apartment building turned into an organic vegetable garden by the building’s superintendent. As a kid raised on a hobby farm and quite unfamiliar with the city, an apartment building was a strange, foreign thing and the city setting of the book was quite unsettling to me. So I found it only natural and right that the hard grey concrete lines should be softened by melon vines and that carrots should poke through the floors.
It’s been probably more than 20 years since I’ve read the book so my memory of the exact vegetables and where they were planted is kind of foggy. I’m not even sure where my copy of the book is! But the overall idea of a structure sustaining a living mass of vegetables has stuck with me all these years.
Published in 1969, this book is still absolutely current with today’s fervor over organic vegetables and interest in local food production. I can’t count how many little plots of tomatoes and beans have sprung up among the dahlias and rhododendrons in my neighbourhood this year.
Green roofs and bee hives? – of course! High-rises with balcony vegetable gardens and atriums filled with grape and cucumber vines? – yes please! Give me half a chance and I’ll grow an espaliered apple tree against that future laneway house.
(I did a little search and found a blog on vintage children’s books [blog after my own heart] where there’s an example of one of the delightful illustrations from this book. )