From Russian with love: “We got to get ourselves back to the garden.”



Only a 110-day growing season and they’re producing enough food to feed half of Russia. In the middle of a charming (if somewhat fey) story about Russia’s Ringing Cedars cult books, I found embedded some amazing statistics. While Susan has written before about
Moscow’s botanical gardens and their amazing contributions to their communities and the country’s botanical heritage, I had not heard before what a thriving home garden culture Russia has.

According to Vladimir Megre, the author of the books, over 35 million families (70% of Russia’s population) produce 40% of Russia’s agricultural output on their garden plots/dachas, providing 92% of Russia’s harvest of potatoes, 77% of its vegetables, 87% of berries and fruits, 59.4% of meat, and 49.2% of milk. I’m pretty much quoting verbatim because the stats are so impressive. (And some fact-checking bears this out, with caveats.) We use twice the space the Russians use for gardening for our lawns, which produce … well, not much, though they do support a large and I suppose lucrative lawn care industry.

The Ringing Cedars books, which first appeared in the 90s, advocate a return to the land and the forest, (specifically the forests of Siberia in one of them—brrr). Apparently, the books have reinforced the already-ingrained dacha culture, encouraging home farming even more. This is very different from my inner vision of Russia, which generally features a cold, gray, urban scene, dominated by decaying 60s-era institutional culture and lots of people drinking vodka. (They probably have the same vision of Buffalo, with some tweaks.) The general economic picture for Russia still does have a gray hue; if home gardeners are doing well, it sure doesn’t look like the big farmers are, as outmoded equipment and out-of-sight fuel prices make subsidies the only solution. But it does look like a lot of Russians are better at feeding themselves sustainably than we are.

Wondering about the ringing cedars? They are cedars so old that they have gathered enough energy to create a ringing sound.

Thanks to mentee Ron for the HT.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Well, that they have a huge home gardening culture makes some sense: politically, despite the shift to state-run farms, there’s always been a DIY spirit there. That danged iron curtain kind of got in the way of our knowing about it, though. Glad it fell: I have a lot of seeds that’re Siberian and mid-Russian in origin; one of my favorite cultivars is a tomato called Black from Tula.

  2. I suspect that if you don’t grow your own veggies etc in Russia, you don’t eat well. Expatriate Russian friends from Moscow tell how they went into the country to buy vegetables from country women’s gardens, and how one winter they hoarded some precious potatoes by digging a storage pit for them in a local park.
    Devla Murphy’s book ‘Siberia by Accident’ is a good read and brings out how much small scale food production is going on in Russia and how important it is.

  3. Yes, the gardening tradition stayed strong in the Soviet Union because you couldn’t get veggies any other way. That tradition helped get them through the economic collapse.

    It’s a tradition we would do well to emulate here. One of these days I’ll get around to blogging about Dmitry Orlov and how the Soviets were so much better prepared for hard time than we are. But meantime, you can read more at ClubOrlov:

  4. Ellis – I’m so glad you brought up the cluborlov site – I’m rather worried that dwindling worldwide petroleum supplies, combined with our lack of viable transportation alternatives, and the inevitable economic hard times that will ensue from that will eventually lead to a resurgence of Americans needing to grow their own food locally as the Russians do, out of necessity, and as a country we’re just not prepared for that at all. I can see a future where the outer suburban McMansions on their cul-de-sacs, which if not boarded up because they are too far out from business areas to commute to/from and too costly to heat and cool, will be cut up into cheap apartments, just like the houses from the victorian era were sliced up into apartments during the 1930’s, and there will be corn and veggies growing on the front lawns of these places. They will be the outer slums of the future, but they’ll be “greener” too…I think it will be an interesting paradox. And i think it’s starting to happen now – outer suburban home values are plunging with the cost of gas now, yet inner areas and those near mass-transit are often holding their value – the Washington Post just did an interesting article on this. Restrictive HOA covenants in more modern suburban American communities will need to be redrafted or just flagrantly ignored to permit the growing of food on common lands. As the author James Howard Kunstler likes to say, we can’t keep trucking most of our vegetables from California to the east coast, or trucking our citrus from Florida to the Mid-West, when oil becomes scarce/costly – no more salad ingredients journeying 3,000 miles by truck to be delivered to a Safeway near you. The impact on ornamental gardening will be far more devastating – no more South Carolina grown $39.99 emerald green arborvitaes being trucked to New Jersey for sale at suburban garden centers. Perhaps some day, where we now have large, paved surface area parking lots in our urban and suburban environments, we may again have nature in the form of community gardens. I think garden rant would be doing a service to readers if there were more articles here about what the future portends vis-a-vis gardening and gardeners, be it optimistic or pessimistic.

  5. Love that comment, Eric! This was a great post – I was an ornamentals – only gardener until very recently. I’ve dedicated 1/4 of my growing space to food crops, and I’m eager to see where this journey takes me…

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