Finding Abandoned Gardens

While I was writing my garden plans, I got to thinking about how much work goes into a garden every year.  How much of that would remain if the gardener died/left/whatever?  If you were traveling through an abandoned area or foraging for food, could you find old gardens? Looking for surviving remains of gardens seems a bit more likely to succeed than foraging through prairie grass for a handful of herbs. What would you be likely to find though?

Things to look for – What could conceivably survive after the gardener was no more? Annuals would be spotty, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wild green bean, or broccoli spreading through volunteers. My lettuce spreads all over the yard though, and depending on the time of year that could be found. Tomatoes also sprout volunteers willingly. Those would likely devolve back to the small cherry tomatoes, but would still be edible for many generations I think. Squashes could carry on, either sprouting new vines where the old fruit rots, or after seeds are scattered by animals.  The squirrels would probably keep corn crops going in some areas.  I know we routinely get ornamental corn that grows where squirrels bury kernels and forget them.  In fact, if you’re really lucky, perhaps you could track a mouse or chipmunk back to a cashe of corn kernels. (Bonus points for snaring the critter to add to the stew.)  Asparagus beds are very distinctive and would probably survive many years without any care.  As would bramble berries. I can spot the drooping canes and silvery sheen of raspberries at quite a distance.  Rhubarb easily survives in the Northern areas.  I’ve even heard that you can guesstimate placements of old homesteads on the east coast by the rhubarb beds that remain to this day.  Fruit trees of course would survive many years.

Where to look – Obviously most will be by a human residence. Stick frame houses won’t be habitable for long after abandonment, but they will still be discernible from a distance.  Looking for fruit trees would be a good strategy, or sunflowers, those are tall enough to be seen easily no matter how tall the grass.   Seeds will be spread by animals, so I would check for volunteers around bushes and fences.  If you’re far enough south, it’s possible you could find root crops that survive winters and propagate, those are harder to spot though, you’ve got to be familiar with a turnip to pick it out from weeds. Garlic could survive, I bet my hardneck garlic would, it handles winters every year, it would expand to make a nice little garlic patch.  Smell would be useful for finding garlic I think.  Watch the birds.  If birds are paying attention to a patch of something, you could find a stand of sunflowers, berries, or corn.  Look for infrastructure, like fencing or raised beds or tomato supports.

Make it a habit – I’ve been looking for food for so long that it’s second nature now.  When I’m out wandering the neighborhood, out for some exercise, or running some errands, I always notice wild and semi-wild food.  I know who doesn’t pick their rhubarb, and who can’t eat all the fruit off their trees. Get in the habit and you’ll start to notice what is able to survive utter neglect.

What do you think? Am I forgetting anything that you’d look for?

– Calamity Jane