Chicago Tribune, August 5, 2011, Book Club, “Leafing Through the Pages at the Morton Arboretum

“Four books we loved: ”Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West” by Stephen Ambrose; “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Kingsolver; “Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime” by Kenneth I. Helphand; and “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard.”

Rebecca Solnit, author of Hope in the Dark

“Defiant Gardens suggests that planting, cultivating, contemplating in the garden, planning for life, for beauty, for order, is war’s opposite and thereby not just escape but a potent act of resistance. Sometimes a book appears that makes it possible to see the world in a new way, and Kenneth Helphand’s Defiant Gardens is one of those. It raises questions about whether gardening is always against something, against death or despair, about what ferocities might be disguised among the roses or tomatoes.”

Lucy Lippard, author of On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art, and Place

“At once scholarly and heartbreaking, Defiant Gardens is a compelling record of human resilience written on landscapes of fear. Kenneth Helphand skillfully juggles the incongruities while gathering a remarkable harvest of first-person testimonies, extending our images of both gardens and of war.”

Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute

“Defiant Gardens is one of those rare works that makes you see something quite familiar in a radically different way. By exploring the special circumstances in which men and women grew gardens, Kenneth Helphand empowers us to understand human courage, dignity, and resilience in a brand new light.”

Laurie Olin, author of Transforming the Common Place

Kenneth Helphand has written a surprising and eye-opening book about the human heart and the inspirational role that gardens have played in the lives of people under duress or worse, some of the most horrible situations of the 20 th century.

Who could have imagined that so many different people under some of the worst conditions imaginable in the most murderous century yet would have created gardens for pleasure and utility? Helphand’s revealing study is a tonic that reveals how deep gardens lie within the soul of every culture.

Dolores Hayden, Yale University , author of American Yard and The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History

Landscape architect Kenneth I. Helphand tackles war and gardening in the twentieth century, creating a most imaginative and original book. Deploying a rich collection of archival photographs and personal accounts, he traces Trench Gardens , Ghetto Gardens , Barbed-Wire Gardens , and Stone Gardens that defy the savagery of war. Highly recommended for all readers interested in landscape history and life in wartime.

Anne Spirn, author of The Language of Landscape
“Original and astonishing.”

Sitelines Spring 2007
Reuben Rainey

This study of a neglected dimension of garden history lives up to its provocative title. Part engaging chronicle, part probing meditation on human nature, it both depresses and inspires. It depresses with its detailed accounts of the horrific cruelty of humans to one another through warfare, genocide, and incarceration. It inspires through its powerful narrative of the efforts of the victims of that cruelty to maintain their physical survival, morale, and dignity through the creation of gardens in the most unlikely circumstances and in the most unexpected places. By addressing this little known subject, Helphand has produced one of those rare works that pioneers significant new territory in its discipline—in this instance, landscape studies.

We often view gardens as the products of politically stable circumstance. Bountiful cottage gardens of Victorian England, the serene Buddhist meditation gardens of Tokugawa Japan, and the quiet suburban residential gardens of late twentieth-century America come to mind. However, we do not tend to associate gardens with the needs of the oppressed, being more familiar as creations of the prosperous and the powerful—kings, cardinals, shoguns, industrial magnates, and the like. The Versailles of Louis XIV or the Villa Lante of Cardinal Giovan Francesco Gambara bear witness to this fact, as do a plethora of other examples from Europe, North Africa, North and South America, the Middle East, and Asia.

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Landscape Architecture Magazine 2007
Deborah W. Dalton

In Defiant Gardens , Kenneth Helphand has written an important book that is both fascinating and moving. Helphand tells the stories of gardens created by soldiers, prisoners of war, and civilian internees in the midst of the horror and chaos of the world wars of the 20 th century. The primary focus of the book is on the trench gardens of World War I, the Ghetto Gardens in Nazi-controlled Poland, the gardens created by Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees in both the European and Asian theaters of World War II, and the gardens created in the Japanese-American internment camps in the US. The gardens created by soldiers during the first Gulf War and the war in Iraq are also examined in the final chapter that brings us up to the present.

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“Peace in earth
Gardens are nurtured in the grimmest places. “Lost Edens in the middle of hell,” an author calls them.” By Virginia Smith
Philadelphia Inquirer Dec. 22, 2006

Like many big ideas, Ken Helphand’s started small, with a black-and-white photograph: an image of French soldiers in World War I standing in front of a tiny vegetable garden in their dugout headquarters somewhere along the Western Front.

Helphand, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon in Eugene, has always been fascinated by the creative spirit that inspires and inhabits gardens. But this anonymous photo, propped on a shelf in his office, was different.

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Landscape Management, July 2006
Finding Peace in War
by Ron Hall

EUGENE, OR — Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens In Wartime, (Trinity University Press, $22 at author Kenneth Helphand examines gardens built during wartime in the 20th century — gardens built in the trenches of the first World War, gardens built in ghettos during World War II, gardens created by prisoners of war, and gardens constructed in Japanese internment camps in the U.S. The moving stories in Defiant Gardens reveal soldiers and prisoners of war longing for normalcy. A flower planted in an artillery shell, a patch of grass, a glimpse of something green and growing — even these rudimentary gardens offered beauty in places of horror and life in the face of death. Kenneth Helphand is a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon. (vol. 45, issue 7)

“Growing Hope: ‘Defiant Gardens’ brought comfort during War”
By Heather Lee Schroeder
The Capital Times, Madison, WI July 1, 2006
In the 1950s, Abraham Maslow said humans care about their aesthetic or intellectual needs only after all their other basic needs — food, shelter, security and social approval — are met.

Researchers have since challenged this theory, suggesting that human needs are far more complex than Maslow realized. Author Kenneth Helphand’s new book “Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime” offers ample evidence that this is almost certainly true.

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Jesse Greenspan

Anyone doubting the therapeutic power of nature need only read Kenneth Helphand’s new book, Defiant Gardens. In the trenches of World War I and Europe’s Jewish ghettos, in Japanese internment camps, and in World War II’s POW camps, both military personnel and civilians suffered terrible atrocities. Many people fought back, however, by cultivating the land to provide hope, battle boredom, sustain morale, and, more practically, help supplement a meager diet that was often less than 800 calories a day. Because these wartime areas were all nearly devoid of arable land, the soldiers and prisoners used incredible ingenuity to make things grow. In two of the many first-person accounts that make the book flow, a German World War I soldier describes the way howitzer cartridge cases were used to plant snowdrops, while a Jew in the Lodz ghetto tells of a worker who planted onions in an old baby carriage. “Gardens domesticate and humanize dehumanized situations,” writes Helphand, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon. “They offer a way to reject suffering . . . assert the dignity of life, human and nonhuman, and celebrate it.”

“Planting Hope: Gardening in times of war” by Jane Garmey

For most of us the notion of gardening under difficult circumstances conjures up frost in May, an unexpected hurricane, or an incursion of hungry deer relentlessly pillaging a bed of perennials. Not so for Kenneth Helphand, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon. ….

I met Prof. Helphand when he was recently in Manhattan to give a lecture, sponsored by Wave Hill, about what he calls “the landscape” of war in our day. His digging into this previously unexamined subject has led him on a fascinating trail: from the Imperial War Museum in London to the World War I battlefields of Ypres and Verdun; from the Holocaust Museum in Washington to the former Jewish ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz, Poland; and from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles to what remains of the internment camp at Manzanar in California.

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Brooklyn Botanic Garden Plants & Gardens News Fall 2006/Winter 2007
by Patricia Jonas

Defiance is what makes gardeners.
—Henry Mitchell, Essential Earthman

One of the milestones of my gardening year is the day in July I spend judging entries in the “Greenest Block in Brooklyn” contest. This contest is more than a scheme to beautify a blighted urban landscape. It is a little about horticultural showmanship but more about the resourcefulness and grit of city gardeners as they struggle for victory over ugliness. It is above all about people taking control of their lives: employing gardens to transform buildings into homes and blocks into communities, and inspiring others to follow suit. Kenneth Helphand, author of Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime, would call them defiant gardens. “Defiant gardens first astonish by their mere presence,” Helphand writes, “and then they astonish when we recognize the sheer force of will and effort that created and sustained them. Such gardens are interrogative places, prodding us to ask questions,” and leading us, like those green blocks and this book, to a new understanding of what garden-making means.

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Ann’s Organic Garden: Inspirational reads
Seattle Post-Inteligencer July 29, 2006

After a few seasons of constant exposure, the ceaseless flow of glossy garden books can lose at least part of their charm. Page after page of seamless gardens can leave us feeling dissatisfied with the blunt reality of our own backyards.

Rather than succumb to the lure of illusory perfection, pick up a book that will leave you blessing the ground you walk on and appreciating every petal and leaf you see. . .

Equally thoughtful and surprisingly uplifting is “Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime” by Kenneth Helphand. This engaging book is full of contrasts, joining pictures of total devastation with pictures of green, growing, living gardens that thrive under almost unbelievable circumstances.

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“Seeds of Hope: Gardening in Barren Times” By Joshua Arthurs
In These Times Dec. 26, 2006

The image of the Hortus conclusus—literally “enclosed garden”—has had a place in Western art and literature at least as far back as the book of Genesis. The Garden of Eden was humanity’s first home, an earthly paradise walled off from the wasteland.

Gardens have always been places apart, spaces of contemplation and respite from the travails of everyday life. They fulfill basic human needs, producing sustenance and bringing us into contact with the vital forces of the natural world.

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“Putting Down Roots” by Rachel Foster
Eugene Weekly Dec. 14, 2006

Finishing Kenny Helphand’s wonderful new book over the Thanksgiving holiday, an event all about home and plenty, was an odd experience. The people described in these pages are far from home, starving or both. Most also face mortal danger. Helphand, a professor of landscape architecture at the UO, vividly describes a landscape architecture from hell: the bizarre world of the trenches at the European Front in WWI, where exhausted soldiers mired in unspeakable horror spent time and effort to make gardens and restore the shattered land. It’s the details that are most touching: immaculate rows of celery, lovingly tended in the bottom of a trench; snowdrops growing in cartridge cases; soldiers begging for flower seeds in their letters home.

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Bill Cary
The Journal News May 28, 2007

As we gather today to honor the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who have died in combat, Kenneth Helphand wants us also to remember the survivors of these desperate wars and to honor the nurturing spirit that propels people of all nations to plant gardens - for food and for beauty - even in the darkest of times.

His recent book, “Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime” (Trinity University Press, $34.95), looks at the myriad ways that gardens have helped people survive the wars of the 20th century. He writes movingly of soldiers raising vegetables and flowers in the Western Front trenches of World War I, of Jews in the Warsaw ghettos growing tiny kitchen gardens, of talented Japanese-American landscape designers transforming the bleak internment camps of World War II. …

“People tend to think of gardens as not significant, as just trivial, just scenic - sort of they’re nice but really not important,” he says. “These places were incredibly important to people. They were fundamental to their lives, literally life-sustaining for people.”

For the most part, Helphand looks at wartime gardens from the first half of the 20th century, during the horrific slaughter brought on by World Wars I and II and the related wartime camps and Jewish ghettos.

But he also looks at Bosnia and Herzegovina and the two Iraq wars, including two soldiers from North Dakota who grew a bountiful crop of corn for their platoon in the middle of the desert and another, a cook, who tended a tiny plot of grass with scissors.

He ends the book with a chapter titled “Digging Deeper: The Spirit of Defiant Gardens.” It looks at gardens and oases of green in the most unlikely places, including inner-city housing projects, trash-strewn lots, prison gardens and memorial gardens like Union Square two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

As Helphand notes in his preface, “Most gardens are at one with their settings, blending in physically and even psychologically with their surroundings.” But “defiant gardens … stand not in harmony with but in opposition to their locations, asserting their presence and almost demanding a response from their human visitors.” …

He toured the French and Belgian battlefields and trenches from World War I. He and his wife, Margot, spent days walking the site of the Warsaw ghetto, armed with a 1943 map that showed the old streets and specific addresses where he knew gardens had once stood.

“It was important to me to go to the places where these gardens had occurred,” he says. “I found this to be extraordinarily powerful. It became almost a pilgrimage as much as a research project.”

To promote the book, Helphand has given many lectures around the country in recent months. “On almost every occasion, someone comes up to me with another connection, another story.”

“Our need for beauty in the midst of war” by Robert Fisk
The Independent (London)
May 12, 2007

During the 1975-90 civil war, a clammy joke regularly made the rounds on both sides of the Beirut front line. God, the old saw went, created Lebanon as the most beautiful country on earth. But it looked so like Paradise that God became jealous - so He put the Lebanese there.
Yet the Lebanese, amid all their suffering and destruction, continued to care for their cedar trees and to plant vines and wheat and apple orchards and jasmine. Even on my own Beirut balcony, there was saxifrage and a single bougainvillea and a couple of miserable palm trees. I remember wanting to feel the warmth of plants but I cared for them in a half-hearted way because shells fell regularly around my apartment and I was never really sure if they - or I - would survive.

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How Does Your Garden Grow?
But, more important, where?

The Jewish Exponent, Philadelphia
November 15, 2007 - Robert Leiter

When Kenneth I. Helphand’s book Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime appeared on my desk many months ago, I thumbed through it, stopping for a moment on the chapter devoted to “Ghetto Gardens,” and thought a terrible, improper thought: “Holocaust scholars will do anything to find a new angle on a well-trafficked subject.” I put the solid, clearly serious volume on the bottom shelf of my bookcase, making a mental note to possibly take a look at it again some time in the future. Then I forgot about it completely.

I — and Helphand — have to be thankful that a local friend of the author’s persisted in drawing my attention back to the book, which is not only solid and serious, but moving and immensely important. As Michael Berenbaum, late of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., notes on the back cover: “Defiant Gardens is one of those rare works that makes you see something quite familiar in a radically different way.”

That is indisputably true, but it is also an understatement of sorts. On every page of this work, I found something that shocked me, woke me up to a new reality and widened my wonder in the world. Quite an accomplishment for any book.

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