18 Apr
Planted in Sickness, Derek Jarman’s Garden Still Gives Joy NY Times April 17, 2020

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive

Planted in Sickness, Derek Jarman’s Garden Still Gives Joy

The British filmmaker, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1994, found solace in gardening during a public health crisis.

A recent campaign raised about $4 million to preserve Prospect Cottage in southern England, the home of the British filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman.

A recent campaign raised about $4 million to preserve Prospect Cottage in southern England, the home of the British filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman.Credit…Gareth Fuller/Press Association, via Associated Press

By Mary Katharine Tramontana

·      April 17, 2020







On the flat, otherworldly, shingle expanse of Dungeness, a headland in southern England, stands a wooden cottage with a small garden. The tar-black cabin with its canary-yellow trim is surrounded by rambling flowers and driftwood totems bedecked with sun-bleached crab claws and snail shells: a quaint scene thrown off-kilter by a nuclear power plant that looms in the background.

The house, called Prospect Cottage, was home to the British filmmaker, artist and activist Derek Jarman, a prominent figure in avant-garde London circles from the 1970s to the ’90s. His first feature, “Sebastiane” (1976), a film all in Latin about the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, garnered attention for its unabashed homoeroticism. Jarman went on to direct many films based on gay and bisexual historical figures, like the arty biopics “Caravaggio” (1986) and “Wittgenstein” (1993). He also made music videos for the Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, and Bryan Ferry.

ImageDerek Jarman at Prospect Cottage in 1991.

Derek Jarman at Prospect Cottage in 1991.Credit…Geraint Lewis

In 1986, after testing positive for H.I.V. and at the height of the panic over the virus, Jarman spoke publicly about his diagnosis and became a leading voice of AIDS activism. The same year, he bought Prospect Cottage for 32,000 pounds, or about $48,000 at the time, with a modest inheritance from his father, and soon began his garden there.


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In his diaries, Jarman wrote of the salve the garden provided him amid the AIDS crisis. He saw his “pharmacopoeia” of medicinal plants, lavender, daffodils, sea kale and wild bees as therapy, and, in an interview for British television a year before his death, said: “I should’ve been a gardener.”


The front garden at Prospect Cottage in 2005.

The front garden at Prospect Cottage in 2005.Credit…Howard Sooley

Jarman died of an AIDS-related illness in 1994, and he left the cottage to his partner, Keith Collins, who tended the garden until he, too, passed away in 2018. Before he died, Collins set up a trust to preserve the property. A fund-raising campaign, led by the Art Fund, a British charity, raised about $4 million, and Creative Folkstone, a local arts organization, will offer residencies in the house for artists, thinkers, writers and others — including gardeners.

The campaign was supported by some of Jarman’s friends and collaborators, including the actress Tilda Swinton. In a speech at an introductory event in London in March, Swinton said that some places were worth preserving not simply to remember an artist’s life, but “because of the influence they had on that life, the working practice they made possible,” and “the liminal energy they afforded.”


The actress Tilda Swinton, who appeared in several of Jarman’s films, took part in a fund-raising campaign to preserve the cottage.

The actress Tilda Swinton, who appeared in several of Jarman’s films, took part in a fund-raising campaign to preserve the cottage.Credit…David Levene

The campaign raised the funds in just 10 weeks, with more than 8,000 crowdfunding donations, and substantial contributions from trusts and foundations, and from the artist David Hockney. Sandy Powell, a costume designer who worked with Jarman, contributed by collecting celebrity signatures on a suit she wore to the Oscars, the Critics Choice Awards, and the BAFTAs, which she auctioned for about $20,000.


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During this coronavirus pandemic, it is perhaps worth exploring what can be learned from Jarman’s act of nurturing plants during his own health emergency. Can the simple, tactile pleasure of pottering in the dirt or watching seedlings sprout comfort us at a time of loss and bewilderment?


Overalls drying in the Prospect Cottage garden in 2005.

Overalls drying in the Prospect Cottage garden in 2005.Credit…Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos

Speaking by phone from her home in London, Powell, whose first film job was on “Caravaggio,” said that getting lost in gardening had given Jarman the solace and energy to continue working — even after AIDS robbed him of his sight.

As he went blind, Jarman saw a blue light, which he recreated in the film “Blue,” released in 1993, a feature-length meditation on impending death, narrated over a single shot of saturated ultramarine, with a soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turner.

Creating “made him happy and kept him sane,” Powell said. “His enthusiasm and lust for life was infectious. He was extremely generous with his time and knowledge, always saying, ‘You have to go to work every day as if it were a party.’”


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As well as developing his films at Prospect Cottage, Jarman also made paintings and sculptures and wrote books and poetry there. And he used flotsam from the beach to make art from found objects.


Jarman used flotsam collected from the beach at Dungeness in the garden, including twisted metal from a fence, an old spring from an abandoned fishing boat and a fragment of a lighthouse lens.

Jarman used flotsam collected from the beach at Dungeness in the garden, including twisted metal from a fence, an old spring from an abandoned fishing boat and a fragment of a lighthouse lens.Credit…Howard Sooley

Howard Sooley, a photographer who knew Jarman, said, “He got through every illness known to humankind, remarkably, because he was always busy.” The two met in 1991 when Sooley went to photograph the garden for the magazine The Face. Later, after they became friends, Sooley helped Jarman gather flotsam for the garden on the beach, and drove the filmmaker to and from hospital many times.

“Gardening carries you to a fundamental place of living, rather than doing,” Sooley said. “When he was quite ill, he’d just grow the second we got onto Dungeness, gardening all day like he was breathing air.”

Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum in London, said in a telephone interview that gardens were “more than pretty ornamental things.” A coming show at the museum about Prospect Cottage, which will feature photographs by Sooley, has been postponed to an unspecified later date because of the coronavirus.

Gardens offer respite from the pressures of modern life, Woodward said. “You’re staring at the screen and it doesn’t make sense. Then you go out to the garden and 10 minutes later it just kind of resolves itself,” he added. “That’s the mystery of gardens.”

Editors’ Picks



1 Sep
let my songs, my words, my pictures be defiant gardens,

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive


Bill Jamieson from Baltimore read about Defiant Gardens in Emily Mayhew’s wonderful book  “ A Heavy Reckoning” It inspired this poem.


let my songs, my words, my pictures

be defiant gardens,

green plants grown to spite 

the dessert;

a reminder

of the possibilities 

of what can be achieved

with love, with compassion,

with humanity

in this wasteland I see around me

barren of empathy, foresight, compassion


Help me friends, to grow gardens

of defiance.

Plant your songs, yours words, your pictures, 

your dances, your everything!

Let us share our pain with each other, 

walk towards each other, and plant 

our resistance and make the soil

fertile with hope;

let us grow our defiant compassion

that it might flower, even in darkness. 


Bill Jamieson

4 Oct
War Gardens - Lalange Snow

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive


Hope in the face of horror: The people tending to gardens against a backdrop of war


By Alexandra Fisher for Sunday Extra


An Afghan man stands behind barded wire in a garden, with a ruined palace in the background. PHOTO: Mohammed Kabir works as a gardener in Kabul’s old Darul Aman Palace. (Supplied: Lalage Snow)

RELATED STORY: Images of unseen worlds find their kindred spirit

RELATED STORY: Rebuilding agriculture after conflict 

An Afghan commander once showed Lalage Snow an oasis in the middle of a war.

It was 2010 and Snow, a photographer and journalist, was embedded in Helmand province in Afghanistan.

Helmand was the only area she’d been to in the country, so the commander decided to show her something other than war: his garden.

He led her through an Afghan military base, to a place where she could smell “damp earth, sweet grass and flowers”.

“The domestication of nature in an environment intent on destroying it is curiously paradoxical,” Snow writes in her book War Gardens: A Journey through Conflict in Search of Calm.

Paradise amid ruins

An Afghan man watering his plants in his garden in Kabul. PHOTO: Kaka Khalil in his garden in old city, Kabul. He says “flowers bring you peace”.  (Supplied: Lalage Snow)

Snow has covered conflict in Afghanistan and across the world since 2007.

Along the way, she documented the lives of ordinary people tending to their gardens, against a backdrop of war.

One of her favourite gardeners was Mohammed Kabir, who claimed to be 105 years old.

When she met him in 2012, he told her he’d been working in the ruined quarters of Kabul’s Darul Aman Palace, which was built in the 1920s.

“Over the years it had been destroyed and set on fire, and people have been hanged from different beams in the rooms,” Snow says of the palace.

“It really stood as a symbol to what Afghanistan is for many, on the outskirts of Kabul.”


AUDIO: Lalage Snow speaks about the gardeners creating beauty in the midst of destruction. (Sunday Extra)

Mr Kabir tended to a kitchen garden for the Afghan Army, which had a small base at the side.

“[It] was quite common for the Afghan Army to have their own little gardens on site,” Snow says.

“Unlike Western soldiers who live on preconditioned ration packs, Afghans grow and kill their own food basically.”

But Mr Kabir went one step further, Snow says, and brought flowers from his own house to grow.

“It was just a lovely thing to do and it was to create a paradise in the quarters of this ruined palace. It was sort of metaphorical in so many ways,” she says.

He also told her some far-fetched stories — including that he met Queen Soraya in the 1920s and elephants were brought in to help move trees around.

“Given that elephants aren’t really indigenous to Afghanistan, it raises a few eyebrows,” Snow says.

When she met him again five years later, he was still claiming to be 105 and his stories had become even more outrageous.

“But he still had… these two enormous greenhouses that must have been as big as two tennis courts back-to-back, full of geraniums and trumpet flowers and roses and a lot of succulents,” Snow says.

‘A different side’ of life

Snow also visited people and their gardens in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine and the West Bank.

A woman in her balcony garden behind a cage, there to stop rocks being thrown. PHOTO: Zleika’s garden in Hebron is caged in, Snow says, to prevent Israeli settlers throwing rocks, shadows of which are on the wall.  (Supplied: Lalage Snow )

For them, gardening was an escape from conflict, a way to find peace, maintain normalcy, and stay focused.

For Snow, it allowed her to break a barrier between journalist and civilian.

“The bottom line was, ‘well, you journalists always come here, you take our stories and then nothing happens’, which is completely true and something that is rather shaming I suppose in terms of our trade,” she says.

She remembers one man who grew hundreds and hundreds of cacti on his rooftop in Gaza.

Portrait of Lalage Snow looking at the camera and sitting in front of a bookshelf. PHOTO: Lalage Snow has covered conflict in Afghanistan and across the world since 2007. (Supplied: Lalage Snow )

She and a trusted local fixer knocked on his door one day.

“He said, ‘I’m not going to talk to you … you guys come here, we’re stuck here, you leave. I’ve got nothing to say to you,” she recalls.

“And I said, ‘Well, I’d like to talk to you about your cacti, not about the war’.”

The man chatted with them for two hours on his roof, revealing details of his life in Gaza, why he grows cacti and what it symbolises.

Snow says he saw the cactus as a “Palestinian metaphor”, partly because of its ability to sustain itself with little water. 

“In Gaza there is very, very little water at the moment,” Snow says.

“He was just one example of somebody for whom speaking about his life and the war was just absolutely anathema but get him talking about the garden and a different side opens up.”

Under your skin

A man sits with his granddaughter on a military cot bed in his hospital garden in Helmand.PHOTO: Daram with his granddaughter in his hospital garden in Lashkar, Helmand.  (Supplied: Lalage Snow)

Snow returned to Afghanistan time and again.

“There’s a very funny thing about Afghanistan,” she says.

When she first visited in 2007, embedding with a British unit in Southern Helmand Province, she was captivated by the country’s rawness.

“There was a moon one night, the largest moon I’ve ever seen, it was bright orange and it seemed to hang over the world like a pendulum,” she says.

“I just remember walking around the forward operating base beneath this moon at 10 o’clock at night and looking at the stars, and then hearing the sounds of Afghanistan outside the compound walls.”

Unravelling and coming back together

That year she met British soldiers who became part of her photo series titled We Are the Not-Dead.

She photographed young British soldiers just before they deployed, in the middle of their deployment, and when they returned home.

“The one thing that struck me … was how much these guys had changed and how they changed emotionally as well,” she says.

The journalist experienced her own change over time, becoming disillusioned with the trade.

“The real unravelling happens when you [lose] empathy with people,” she says.

“If you start to get a bit apathetic about things and you start to get a bit hysterical … either hysterical or deadpan, then you are losing sight of humanity and you are losing sight of who you are.”

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Sunday Extra presents a lively mix of national and international affairs, analysis and investigation.

She says her unravelling happened about three years after living in Kabul, when she’d seen too much.

“Seeing children in trouble and seeing young girls at the age of 13 facing recriminations for having been raped by a policeman, and then seeing young boys die in operating theatres after IEDs have exploded,” she says.

“You know, you filter through a lens, you filter through your camera and then afterwards it hits you.”

Snow, who now lives in the English countryside, says it takes a long time to “re-ravel”.

“I think the gardens and the project probably helped me to not unravel quite so much and to ground me a bit and to see something more positive,” she says.

Topics: unrest-conflict-and-war, gardening, gardens, arts-and-entertainment, photography, journalism, information-and-communication,afghanistan, ukraine, israel, united-kingdom, england


15 Aug
Dr. Alan Kay Afghanistan photographs

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Afghanistan Uncategorized archive

17 Jul
Defiant Gardens: from Helmand to Headley Court

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive








The art of medicine

Defiant gardens: from Helmand to Headley Court



There were gardens at Camp Bastion, so many of them that anyone ying in to the British base of operations during the UK’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 would have been astounded. The best way to see all these little patches of green in the dry dust of the desert behind miles and miles of barbed wire fence was from a helicopter, but if you ew or travelled in one of the Apaches or Chinooks that bumped down every hour at one of Bastion’s landing sites, you had other things to worry about. Aircraft were at their most vulnerable to enemy re as they came into land, especially in daylight. Medical sta returning to the eld hospital—the landing site there was called HLS Nightingale—were focused intensely on getting the patient they carried to the trauma bay or the operating theatre and from there, home.

Studies have supported the bene t of gardens in hospitals and caregiving settings. Patients who look at views of a garden from their hospital bed do better post- operatively than those who look at a car park. Patients with dementia can feel less agitated and distressed if they have access to gardens in their care facilities. There is a long history, predating scoping reviews and outcome studies, of gardens in medical facilities working therapeutically. So for all those reasons, hospitals today are incorporating gardens, often in extraordinary forms, into their architecture and design. This essay is not about those gardens or about the horticultural therapy practised there. It is about gardens like those at Camp Bastion, which do the same work and more, not planned, rarely expensive,

but every bit as important in the process of healing for people in the worst of circumstances.

One of the gardens had been built by a plastic surgeon who heard the bump of the medical helicopter ight as it landed at HLS Nightingale every time he was on call at Camp Bastion eld hospital. The sound meant long sessions of surgical reconstruction that often felt more like something else once the limbs he had removed were packed away into yellow plastic disposal bags and the blood cleaned o the oor of the operating theatre. Before he came to the eld hospital, he’d been based with units that did their ghting on the move in the deep desert, and it always astonished him to see owers growing there no matter how hard or dry the ground. He took photographs of them, to remember, and when he had time and space at Bastion,hegrewsomeforhimself.Hisgardenwasmarked out with wooden fencing scrounged from somewhere, and terracotta pots wedged into the dust and lled with strong little plants, all arranged in a neat scheme. He watered them diligently with a yellow hose—plenty of water at Camp Bastion from the aquifer 150 m down that drained fresh water from the snow melt of the Hindu Kush mountains—and he watched his pots ll with salads and herbs from seed, and plants from cuttings whose names he never discovered but which grew and grew despite the heat and dust.

His garden proved its worth in ways he couldn’t have imagined. He sat out in it, not in the cool of the evening but in between the long bouts of surgery, when the sun was at its brightest and hottest. The surgical theatres at Bastion were air-conditioned, sometimes a little too e ciently, and they got chilly after hours of work. Everyone, including the unconscious patient, was shivering by the end. So he went to his garden to warm up, to check on his plants, and to be comforted by things that were as far away from con ict and casualty as could possibly be imagined.

A landscape architect, Kenneth Helphand, has de ned the technical term for places like this. He calls them de ant gardens: a good name, and well deserved. De ant gardens are built in places surrounded by war and violence all over the world, from trenches on the Western Front a century ago, and in ghettos and concentration or internment camps in the century since. The surgeon at Bastion thought of his garden as just a little patch, but scale isn’t important. With de ant gardens, even a micro- restorative environment is restorative, in an unexpected multiplicity of ways. As a surgeon, he o ered restoration and the possibility of healing to his patients. His garden gave some of that back to him. De ant gardens remind their gardeners of home and hope. They give people a way




www.thelancet.com Vol 392 July 14, 2018



Alan Kay





to manage the horrors that can happen to them, and to glimpse a world beyond.

At the other end of the casualty continuum, and a world away from the desert, another de ant garden was built at Headley Court, in Surrey, UK. Headley has been the o cial Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) since World War 2. It was where casualties injured in Afghanistan whose survival had been ensured by the surgeons at the eld hospital were taken to begin their new lives beyond survival, through rehabilitation. In a phased handover during 2018, the rehabilitation facilities at Headley are moving to DMRC Stanford Hall in Leicestershire. The new centre will have extensive landscaped gardens and grounds. These will take their inspiration from the garden at Headley, which was conceived in 2010 by a physiotherapist because he wanted to create a space where his patients could transition between the static world of the rehabilitation gym and the jumble of the real world outside. Headley already had the remnants of a beautiful garden built in the 1900s, but the physiotherapist reframed it, added a layer to make a garden within a garden, with a path through places where patients could learn how to feel things like wet grass, gravel, edges, adverse cambers, and cracked paving stones, all through their prosthetic feet so their brains could adjust and they could walk out into their new lives with con dence and skill.

At Headley Court, it wasn’t just the physical reactions to trauma that the physiotherapists and patients dealt with, it was also the psychological reaction. At Headley between 2009 and 2014, the multidisciplinary rehabilitation teams didn’t generally use the term post-traumatic stress disorder with their complex trauma patients because it wasn’t quite the right one at that point in their recovery. Instead, they called it the trauma reaction, another well chosen name. The trauma reaction could be a good day spent hitting rehabilitation goals in the gym suddenly turning into a bad day, grieving for what has been lost—a limb, a comrade, a self.

The physiotherapist understood that a di erent kind of garden would be needed for the trauma reaction, so he asked that another layer of garden be added to those already there. It was designed by the father of a patient who understood his son’s exhilaration that he could walk once more but with the knowledge that it was on prosthetic feet that would never again feel grass between their toes. The garden he made at Headley was for his son, his friends, his family, and all the medics who had worked so they could nd comfort and restoration.

Along the paths where the patients practised new ways of walking, he laid beds full of plants that produced an abundance of blossom: petals that could be gathered up and bagged to make confetti for future weddings. There were plants whose owers and leaves smelled as good as

they looked, in the air or on the ngertips. Plants where families could give bored children a leaf to nibble on so they could nd out what herbs taste like. Something remarkable to share with other family groups gathered there for the same reasons, or with sta on their breaks. Plants that were beautiful when it rained, silver drops of water hanging from their foliage. For autumn, there were plants that made catkins, and plants with leaves that suddenly burst ery red. Plants that elegantly framed winter with frosted stems, seed heads, feathery, silvered leaves, something to look for from the windows inside, when even the boldest preferred the warmth. A garden for all seasons, on the calendar or in the soul.

Perhaps at rst glance, the little patch of garden in Afghanistan and the masterpiece that was Headley Court don’t seem to have much in common. But they are both de ant gardens, created in response to the hardest of challenges, places that provide mechanisms and evidence of human resilience in extreme circumstances. They speak to very deep, old human instinct to connect with nature, especially when we are under pressure. The nature of de ant gardens helps all of us—patient, family, friends, and caregivers of whatever kind—to evolve, rediscover who we are, and be comforted by the familiar, whether it grows in a small terracotta pot or a lush, ower- lled bed at the end of an emerald lawn.

Emily Mayhew

Historian in Residence, TRBL Centre for Blast Injury Studies, Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK

I am Imperial Lead on the Paediatric Blast Injury Partnership, part of the Centre for Blast Injury Studies network and am Historian in Residence in the Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London.

Further reading

Helphand K. Defiant gardens: making gardens in wartime. San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2006

Wilson EO. Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984

Mayhew E. A heavy reckoning. London: Profile/Wellcome, 2017

Hickman C. Therapeutic landscapes. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013





www.thelancet.com Vol 392 July 14, 2018




Rupert Frere

29 Apr
A Solitary Gardener Keeps a Busy City at Bay

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive






N.Y. / Region

Defending His Daffodils, an Eighth Avenue Gardener Keeps a Busy City at Bay





Donald Wolfe tending to a small patch of garden near 50th Street and Eighth Avenue. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

The daffodils were in bloom, which meant the garden had to be watered. Donald Wolfe said he would walk there from his apartment on West 50th Street in Manhattan — 38 steps to the elevator, 54 steps through the lobby, 75 steps down the block to the corner and 37 steps across Eighth Avenue.

First he put the jug with the water on his wheelchair. His oxygen tank was already in place, on the back. Off he went, pushing the wheelchair, a transport device for the garden supplies if not, at the moment, the gardener. He was not shuffling. Not shambling. But not speedwalking, either.

“We’re so dry right now,” said Mr. Wolfe, who is 69 and has emphysema.

He paused halfway down the block, breathing noticeably. In a moment or two, he would suck on a tube that functioned like a siphon to start the water flowing, this man in a windbreaker who said he had only 18 percent of his lung capacity. But he was not there yet.

The garden, in the distance, stood out in a neighborhood aspiring to stylishness. The little flower bed was a patch of land created a couple of years ago when a median was put in to separate bicycles from cars, trucks and buses. “It was just there,” he said. “Whenever I see an empty spot of dirt, I think, what could you grow in it?”

But this is not Park Avenue, with its wide medians and tulips. This is Eighth Avenue, where Mr. Wolfe was once cursed out by a woman who accused him of stealing the flowers. “She was not about to hear me trying to explain, ‘We’re planting them, we’re not stealing them,’” he said. The “we” referred to him and his home health aide, who had accompanied him that day.

This is not Fifth Avenue, with the Conservatory Garden and its imposing iron gate, between 104th and 105th Streets. Mr. Wolfe’s garden is surrounded by a nylon-rope fence that he installed because somebody trampled on the flowers.

And this is not the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which covers 250 acres and has more than one million flowers. Mr. Wolfe’s garden covers 35 square feet — eight ten-thousandths of an acre — and has perhaps 100 flowers and one tree. All are daffodils, except for a couple of hostas and the tree. All were planted by him, except for the tree, which was planted by the city. All are watered by him, except when he does not have the strength to do it. Some days, he cannot make it to the elevator.



Before he headed to his garden, Mr. Wolfe first prepared the jug that helps water the daffodils. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

“The plants don’t get watered those days,” he said.

And the stories do not get told on the bad days. But on the good days, there is time to tell stories, to talk about life and memories. Like the night, years ago, when he went to a charity auction and got into a bidding war with Donald J. Trump’s brother Robert over a gingerbread house. Mr. Wolfe said he proposed joining forces and pooling their money.

“He didn’t go for it,” Mr. Wolfe said of Robert Trump.

Or how he hauled peat moss to the garden in a taxi.

Or how he planted the daffodils last fall, not because he has a special love of daffodils but because they were free.

They came from New Yorkers for Parks, a century-old nonprofit that distributes a half-million bulbs to community groups and gardeners like Mr. Wolfe every year. He plans to dig up Park Avenue tulip bulbs in a few weeks — every year, the Fund for Park Avenue, which plants tulips from 54th to 80th Streets, announces a tulip dig after the tulips have bloomed. “They’re gorgeous tulip bulbs,” he said, “but being in a wheelchair on oxygen, it’s not the easiest thing to get over to Park Avenue and dig.”

This is his third spring in the garden. The first year, everything he planted was trampled.

Last year, he tried geraniums. They did not do well. “This only gets a couple of hours of sun,” he said. “I should’ve known. Geraniums require direct sun, full sun, all day long.” He should have known, he explained, because when he was in his 30s, he owned a garden store in Syracuse.

The garden is litter-free, at least by the time he leaves, because he picks up cigarette butts and other debris with a contraption he made, a trowel attached to a long metal arm. It lets him reach from the wheelchair.

Finally he turned the jug upside down and emptied it around the tree. Then he sank into the wheelchair, but not before he reached for the oxygen tank. He turned the valve that increased the flow. He said he was concerned about what people would make of his walks to the garden.

“People are going to say, see, the only thing he’s using the wheelchair for is the water,” Mr. Wolfe said. “Well, the reason for the wheelchair was, I would have to stop and grab onto a building.” He would also have to wait until his breathing settled down, and that brought up another reason for the wheelchair: to carry the oxygen tank. But the main reason was to have a place to sit when he becomes exhausted.

“It’s the hand I was dealt,” he said. “It’s my fault. I smoked for 40 years.”

A version of this article appears in print on April 27, 2016, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: A Solitary Gardener Keeps a Busy City at Bay. 

13 Apr
Afghan General Plants Flowers in Helmand, but Taliban Lurk

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive

Afghan General Plants Flowers in Helmand, but Taliban Lurk


Maj. Gen. M. Moein Faqir is the top military man in Helmand Province, more than half of which has been overrun by the Taliban in the past year.

see http://nyti.ms/1SHgRzT

28 Mar
The Short Life of My Mother’s Garden

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive

My Mother’s Garden

IT was my first year as a scholarship student at a school that prized itself on teaching the skill of dispassionate debate. I quickly learned that the best thing you could bring to an argument was “objectivity.”

We practiced this objectivity in our current events class. It was never explicitly tied to identity, but it was implied. I learned that the best person to talk about wealth and class was an upper-middle class person because she supposedly could look at it dispassionately. The best person to talk about race was a white person, for the same reasons. The best person to talk about gender was a boy.

When people affected by issues spoke for themselves, they got too angry, too weepy, too irrational.

In the mid-1990s, the biggest threat to America continued to be the welfare queen. Or at least that’s what the news and many politicians all said. My school was far too genteel to name the welfare queen outright, but she haunted our balanced class discussions. The welfare queen was worse than disease and death and the destruction of the icecaps. She was worse than that because she was all those things in one, perpetually pregnant with pathologies, birthing out criminals and addicts and losers and apparently eating $50 steaks and driving gleaming Cadillacs while doing so.

I was acutely aware that, on the surface, I could potentially fit all the stereotypes of the welfare queen: I was black, the daughter of a single mother, on welfare and food stamps and living in the projects.

I would sit in class and listen to the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers and policy makers — people who had never needed and would most likely never need welfare — earnestly advocate the dismantling of the welfare state, and I would shake and shake and shake with something I couldn’t name.

I told myself it did not matter that my classmates and teachers described a reality that was not mine, was never mine, was so far removed from mine as to be a fiction. Their fiction was the truth because they didn’t live in my reality. That’s what made them objective. I wanted to be objective, too. I longed for that voice and the authority that came with it.

My objective classmates did not know, for instance, about the garden. The housing project we lived in had been built just before the war on poverty, probably intended for G.I.s returning from World War II. They were suburban-style tract houses, two units to each trim building.

No one came to visit us there in the bad part of town. We had arrived not that long before, when we were a month away from homelessness, but I did not look at this as a place of shelter. The other people in these projects were nearly all white. We were one of the few black families.

The project’s tract houses stood behind green lawns and weeping willow trees and generous blacktopped driveways. To an outsider, there was little distinction between where we lived and the middle-class homes across the street. But everyone in our town knew which side of the street was which, which side was where the real people lived and which side was to be avoided.

So when I answered the doorbell one spring afternoon when I was 14, I was very curious. I could see four children, smaller than me, the oldest probably no more than 8, the youngest barely 4.

“Where’s the lady?” the oldest one asked. She had a hoarse voice with a strong Boston accent, and her green eyes blinked up at me from behind a pair of blue plastic glasses, the lenses clouded with finger grease.

“Who?” I said.

“The lady,” the girl repeated. “She works in the garden. We want to work in the garden,” which to my ears sounded like “gah-den.”

As soon as the ground thawed in this strange new place, my mother started planning a garden. She’d chosen a circle of lawn along the parking lot, in the no man’s land between the project and the street behind it, where the middle-class homes resumed. She planted cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and marigolds.

A garden was my mother’s way of holding on, as tightly as she could, to any scrap of our former middle-class life. In our homes before poverty, before the divorce, we had always had a garden. When I was younger, my mother would give me my own small plot. I always chose to plant pansies.

My mother had decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. She did not want us to stay in this housing project forever. But, as she told me, the housing project administrators argued that her scholarships to graduate school should count as her income and that even though she was also working, being a full-time student meant she could not live in public housing.

There were other strange rules, too. My father unexpectedly sent a desktop computer instead of back payments for child-support. But the housing project forbade personal computers, because they used up too much electricity. My mother made a quick calculation — hours and gas spent driving back and forth to the university computer lab to work on papers versus the cash she could get if she sold it. She decided to keep it. The computer sat hidden under piles of bedsheets, far from any windows, in a dark corner of my mother’s room, a ghost of our need.

My mother is radically honest, one of the few people I know who is incapable of lying. But it was an impossible choice: Obey the housing project’s rules, don’t go back to school, certain that path would mean no upward mobility and thus, no way to leave public housing. Or break the rules, work quiet and quick and hard, hoping the path she hacked in secret would allow some sort of escape.

That spring, my mother got up at 5 every morning to work in the garden before she drove to her full-time job and then to class. When she finally came home, in the dusk, she worked in the garden again before coming inside to make my sister and me dinner and then staying up to study and write papers.

All this time, the children of the projects had watched her weed and water and seed with interest. And now they were here to join her.

They came every afternoon, ringing the back doorbell. “Is the lady home? Is she going work in the garden? Tell us when she gets home, O.K.? We want to work in the garden.”

I teased my mother about her fans, imitating their accents. She’d laugh a little and then she’d invite me to join them outside. But I would always say no. I stayed indoors, in the rooms we kept dark (the air-conditioning of the poor — heavy shades and high-powered fans) and listened to Björk.

MY whole life, at that point, was focused on proving that I did not belong to the poor. I doubled down on outsiderness. The weirder the affectations I adopted the better. I saved for months to buy heavy men’s Oxford shoes and wore only overalls and became the most devoted They Might Be Giants fan I could possibly be — all signifiers, I hoped, that I was smart and quirky, and most of all objective, like all my classmates.

When I came home from school in the afternoons, I remembered what was said about us, about the projects, about our poverty. My mother asked me if I wanted a plot for my pansies in her garden and I said no. I wasn’t brave, like her and those kids. I was ashamed to claim any part of this, to make it my own, to love it so hard as to seed it with flowers and patiently hope for them to bloom.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

The garden lasted a few months. Then, an agent of the town’s housing authority found out about it and told my mother it was against the rules. “But no one’s using the land,” I remember her arguing. “The kids in the neighborhood play there.” The response was clear: Get rid of the garden or be evicted. Here was another one of those impossible choices of poverty. This was what my classmates would never understand, as they earnestly debated welfare fraud and the grasping desperation of the undeserving poor.

My mother stopped tending the garden and the next weekend a maintenance worker came and poured something onto the soil that made all the plants die and turned the grass brown.

In September, I was back at that prep school, still obviously a scholarship student no matter what disguises I secured. The earnest debates in the halls had moved on to other topics because at that moment, poverty was no longer news. But I was still shaking with rage. I didn’t know what to do with it; I didn’t even know yet that it was rage that made my voice quiver and come out small when I had to speak in class.

Every morning, I passed the big floral arrangements that sat on the chestnut tables outside of the sleek, walnut-lined school office. I’d sneak a hand underneath their leaves, break the heads off the heaviest blooms and ball the petals up until my fists smelled like roses.

Kaitlyn Greenidge is the author of the novel “We Love You, Charlie Freeman.”


18 Feb
Waging Life in a War Zone

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive

Waging Life in a War Zone A film by Jehad Saftawi.

“From the stones of the destruction we will build plant basins to grow flowers.” It started with one man’s efforts to beautify his home with paint and flowers, but the initiative spread as neighbors came forward to spread the beauty. Using salvaged and recycled material, with some funding from a local and U.S. nonprofit, the densely populated neighborhood of al-Zaitoun in Gaza City, Palestine, is awash in color, murals, and flowers, bringing some much-needed comfort to an area besieged with war and destruction.

- See more at: http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=7002

13 May
gardens planted by syrian refugees in Jordan

Posted by Kenneth Helphand in the Uncategorized archive

The non-profit organization Save the Children is teaching some of the camp’s 800,000 refugees how to garden. The group is giving the Syrian refugees who have fled their homes during the civil war in Syria to Jordan, lessons on landscaping and gardening.

-       http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/10/secret-gardens-planted-by-syrian-refugees-in-jordan/#sthash.8axzq8mt.dpuf


-       http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/29/secret-gardens-of-syrias-refugee-camps_n_6068550.html

Ma’moun, 54 and his wife fled to Jordan after his sister and her children were killed by a bomb. The couple now live with their newly married son and daughter in law in Za’atari Camp. After spending long, slow days unemployed in the camp, Ma’moum decided to create a garden.
“I had a wonderful garden back in Syria. It was beautiful and had everything in it. I made it into plots of squares, with specific designs, and had one flower that has five different looks. White, pink, yellow, maroon, and another colour that I’ve forgotten.
“My wife and I used to work on the garden together. I made this one, because most of the time I’m staying here and doing nothing, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I worked very hard on it.”


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