Life, home, work, hope, beauty, plants and gardens
We thought we would be on our way now, here in early August, in the year of pandemic, to something resembling normal. The new normal, of course — face covered, six feet apart, perfectly scrubbed hands — but we might be out in the world anyway, dining, shopping, singing — ah, but not singing. But fine. We’ll take it; that is, we would have taken it. But we are back to the beginning, and back to a sense of timelessness in many ways, and this morning, at first light, I unlocked a door and stepped into a courtyard to check on my plants. For a gardener, this is what we do no matter what, check
Home Ground by
Paula Panich on our plants. One or two in a windowsill, we still check on our plants. And here in pandemic-land, where we, all of us in this world, live, a private conversation with our plants is a bridge to something normal, and to something resembling hope. When I first read Kenneth Helphand’s “Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime” (Trinity University Press,
Residential program at Maryvale, city’s oldest children’s charity, closes
By Rachel Olivier Maryvale, Los Angeles’ oldest children’s charity, will cease operation of its residential services Wed., Aug. 5. Maryvale, founded in 1856 as the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum, began as an orphanage and hospital on the site where Union Station now stands. It expanded and moved to Boyle Heights in 1891 until growth (helping up to 8,000 children), earthquake damage and freeway
construction meant a move to Rosemead in 1952, where it remains today, with preschool and a community-based family program added to its residential program, otherwise known as Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Program (STRTP). The STRTP closure was announced in June by Maryvale’s CEO Steve Gunther. There was a final graduating class of residents in the (Please turn to page 5)
2006), I was deeply moved and was convinced that what I had just read will likely prove to be among this century’s great contributions to garden and landscape history and to the study of human behavior in wartime. The image in my mind of the gardeners of the Warsaw Ghetto, planting a crop they knew they would not live to harvest, has stayed with me, and will always. But I have just reread this stunning book. Its thesis — that human beings often make gardens in response to difficult and abnormal circumstances — has accrued a different and deeper meaning. Commonplace in ordinary times, gardens take on transcendent meanings during war — and pandemics. Wherever and whenever gardens appear, they encompass ideas and feelings, as Helphand has suggested, of life, home, work, hope and beauty. “The persistence of the ordinary,” he has written, can become extraordinary when worlds turn upside down. Gardens, made in almost impossible circumstances, give some semblance of order. In World War I, soldiers in the trenches of France grew celery; imprisoned Japanese-
wire and armed guards, there is a psychological connection between life, as many of us experience it now, and wartime civilian internees. Kenneth Helphand’s original research is impressive. His citing of memoirs and diaries of internees and prisoners of war gives the book’s narrative gravitas and emotional resonance. People speak of the experience of the “timeless present” — that is, when the duration of imprisonment is unknown — and of the boredom and depression that sets in with the loss of contact with the outside world. “The worst shock” of the internment experience, wrote Canadian J. Davidson Ketchum, interned in Germany during World War I, “was the wiping out of the future.” Making gardens then and now can assist in reinventing hope, and reinventing ideas of the future. Gardens provide useful work. They engage all aspects of the human being with their harvests of beauty and of nourishment. Garden-making gives us a small wedge of control over our situation — some small power, as Helphand says, over our sense of powerlessness. The reading of Helphand’s book can give that, too.
BOOKS AND GARDENS can give us some small wedge of control and power over our sense of hopelessness in times like these.
Americans and Japanese citizens built elaborate gardens in internment camps during World War II. Gardens fed people, and gardens could, and did, nurture a tenuous hold on retaining a sense of basic humanity. The fourth of the seven chapters in this book, called “Barbed-Wire Gardens,” is a study of the gardens in both world wars planted by Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees in Europe and Asia. We too are locked into a timeless present. While we are not surrounded by barbed
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