October 6, 2007

Defiance Gardens

In my explorations I stumbled upon the term "defiance garden" while searching for information about our soldiers that are currently in Iraq. Intrigued I began searching for more information about these small gardens that offer hope to those in sometimes hopeless situations.

I have two gardens at my home, one for flowers where I sit in the mornings with a cup of coffee and watch the hummingbirds. The other is my vegetable garden - a production garden where I harvest fresh produce for my table. Both of my gardens provide me with a place of hope, anticipation, and decadent pleasure. Especially when I am digging in my flower garden and smell the scent of warm soil. It's better than the scent of chocolate! I love this smell. It reminds me of working in the family garden when I was a little girl. My sister and I would take our shoes off and walk through the soft warm soil that my Dad had just tilled. The scent fills my chest with deep feelings of being home and that everything will be okay as long as the earth smells this way. I leave my gardens refreshed and more grounded in the knowledge that there are constants and Mother Nature is one of them and that you can always turn to her when things seem to be going awry.

Many families have sons, brothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, uncles - it goes on and on - in Iraq. They are seperated from their families in an unfamiliar country in a world of uncertainty. A few of those soldiers have found a way to bring the feeling of home by planting seeds and growing a multitude of plants in their make shift gardens.

Last February while doing the Metropolitan Garden Show, a husband and wife came into the booth and I helped them select seeds to send to their son who was in Iraq. He had requested seeds so that he could plant them in a container. We picked out a variety of Marigolds, and Blanket Flowers. Sun lovers that I thought could tolerate the sun and heat of Iraq. I had made yellow paper flowers for the show and we selected a few to include in the "care package" his parent's were putting together for him.

I made those flowers in my livingroom the night before the show thinking they would be colorful additions to the booth and fun to give away. I had no idea as I cut, pinched, and twisted the stems that a few would end of half way around the world in the hands of someone's son - I hope he smiled when he saw them. Maybe his fellow soldiers and friends enjoyed them to. I like to think so.

Here is some background information from various sources on defiance gardens.

From the Western Front trenches of World War I to the deserts of Iraq, soldiers have found comfort in the simple act of gardening.
Kenneth Helphand, writes about war gardens -- not just victory gardens, grown in time of scarcity, but those planted on hostile fronts, including Eastern Europe's ghettos and the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II. Helphand calls the gardens an act of defiance.

In the photo at the top of this blog, U.S. Army Warrant Officer Brook Turner trims his grass with scissors in a camp north of Baghdad in July 2004. He missed the green of Hawaii, where he lives, and of his native Oregon. His wife sent him grass seed, but ants ate it. Undeterred, he acquired sod.

U.S. Army Sgt. Otis C. Wells
Soldier Uses Personal Time to Grow Garden in Iraq
By Sgt. Waine D. Haley133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

TIKRIT, Iraq, Aug. 10, 2006 — Any war veteran can tell you how important personal time is and how it helps soldiers cope with the separation from home and family.Sgt. Otis C. Wells, base reaction force, 122nd Engineer Company, South Carolina Army National Guard, uses his personal time to grow a garden in the middle of a desert. “I used my time between missions to work on my garden,” Wells said. “That’s what I like to do … I do it every year back home.”The native of Wagener, S.C., had to create all the tools needed to work his garden. He found pieces of an old rake and fixed it to use as a hoe. A shovel served as his tiller. The water was carried by hand from the house until a local national helped him configure an irrigation system using a water tank and a trenching system.The only thing he could not find here were the seeds. Wells’ wife, Diann, sent him the beans, okra, corn and watermelon seeds from home. “The ground here is great … all you need is water,” Wells said. “I didn’t even have to use fertilizer.” Wells said his corn popped out of the ground in a matter of days. The only problem he had was timing. He noted that he planted his crops a little late for the desert growing season, and that the July sun is considerably hotter than in South Carolina at this time of year and difficult to manage.“I started the garden in April, when I should have started it in February,” he said. “I saw the local farmers were already harvesting their crops and mine were just starting to come up. ”Wells said he is proud of his garden and noted that although he had to overcome some harsh conditions and Sgt. Otis C. Wells, base reaction force, 122nd Engineer Company, South Carolina Army National Guard shows off some of the okra he harvested from his garden in front of his living quarters on Contingency Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq.

Stationed outside Tikrit, Iraq, Army Sgts. Justin Wanzek (left) and Carl Quam Jr. (featured in our story) borrowed Iraqi irrigation and planting techniques and grew bumper crops of food: corn, cauliflower, cucumbers and peas. Their battalion ate particularly well, but that was only part of Quam's motivation. Gardening was a way to connect to his home in North Dakota: "It helped me cope with missing them."

On Jan. 28, 1918, this soldier took the time to paint trees on canvas-like material covering the side of his hut, while stationed near Boesinghe, Belgium. "Gardens in the war," writes Kenneth Helphand, "...exemplified the struggle to create something normal in the most abnormal conditions."

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