Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #53

Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime by Kenneth I. Helphand, 2006

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2012-04-01

Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime (2007) is not an easy book to read. The descriptions of the front lines, prison camps, Jewish ghettos, and Japanese internment camps from the first half of the 20th century are brutal, detailed, and very unsettling.

But this is also an important book to read. For those faced with the extremes of human suffering, "Gardens conformed to the expected cycle of seasons and growth and life; a garden was a demonstration of life in order, not a world turned upside down."

Author Kenneth Helphand is a Pacific Northwest author--a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon. He was motivated to write this book by an image of French soldiers beside their small vegetable gardens created while dug in at the front of World War I. His extensive research led him around the world to visit many of the original sites, even if the gardens are long gone.

While these observations give perspective, the heart of this book are the many personal narratives the author found in his research. These tell of the efforts despite great odds to nurture a garden, of the importance these gardens gave both for sustenance and emotional well-being, and the amazing strength of the human spirit.

Excerpted from the Spring 2012 Arboretum Bulletin.

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