In the midst of wars, there are gardens. Here are photographs of three and their gardeners; all were downloaded from Defiant Gardens (the website).
Above is a photo Bill Beardall during his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1970. In a letter to Kenneth Helphand, author of Defiant Gardens (the book), Beardall wrote about his “oasis”:
It had a calming affect on me to come back to my ‘hootch’ where, as a Marine Helicopter Pilot, after a long day of flying missions in the I Corps area to see a little bit of green growing by my doorway. What you see in the first attachment is early in my garden’s life. The bananas grew much taller, the periwinkles as well. The watermelon actually produced fruit, although by the time they were beginning to show any size, the Marines pulled out of Vietnam.
Persistent watering kept [the bananas] flourishing, much to the amusement of my squadron mates and the Vietnamese workers in our area. The Portulaca [and] periwinkle [...] were for color, easy to grow, and satisfied my artistic need for a change from the olive drab of our flight suits and aircraft. The watermelon was simply a challenge and a wish for the wet lushness of the fruit. As small as it was, it was my oasis. Many a day or late evening I would sit on my ‘patio’ drink a ‘cocktail’ and enjoy the setting of the sun in the West. I could almost block out the medevac choppers going out and the sound of the artillery in the distance. I have never forgotten much from that war and never my oasis.
Several decades later, in another conflict region, one still finds evidence of this primordial desire to cultivate.
From Kabul, Lt. Janette Arencibia wrote to Helphand:
I have been here for three weeks and have a year to go. Other soldiers (including coalition forces) have been establishing gardens in this country for the last several years.
My job as a gardener is to share my passion with the other wonderful individuals who have already made Afghanistan more beautiful.
I am attaching a few pictures from a small garden in Kabul, specifically at Camp Cobra, an Afghan National Army base. This garden was created by an officer in the Afghan National Army with a passion for flowers. I listened to him passionately tell the story of the origin of the seeds.
One country over towards the east, another garden is passionately tended to.
From Sgt. Carl J Quam, Jr.:
I came up with the idea, along with Sgt Wanzek, because we were missing home, farming, and the joy of growing something. We had a spell when supply lines were all but cut by the insurgents, and I said we might be able to grow our own vegetables, since the MREs dont have them and the supply trucks werent making it to our FOB. Friends of myself and SGT Wanzek, named Nathan and Stacy Hoehn in Valley City, ND, had the seeds donated by the Valley City Nursery. The Hoehns also sent over some garden hose and a sprinkler, the sprinker we didn’t use. We learned from the locals to irrigate with deep trenches and let the water soak into the dirt in between. [...] At the time of garden prep, planting, weeding and watering, Sgt Wanzek and myself, along with the rest of our crew, were running 4-6 combat patrols a week, in 100-140 degree weather. When we came back to our area, we had a hard time getting motivated to work and weed, but we did. Like I said, it was good therapy to relax after a day of dodging roadside bombs, RPGs and escorting semi trucks full of unexploded ordinance over the worst stretch of road in northern Iraq.
We wanted to include the gardens tended to by detainees at Camp Iguana in Guantanamo Bay — yes, even those in limbo have gardens; with seeds saved from their meals, they were able to grow small plants like watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe and even a lemon tree about two inches tall — but unfortunately, there are no photos to be found. Perhaps you have some and are willing to share?