Gardens of hope amidst terrible cruelty
peacocks, of a retired science professor and his “darling wife”, a nurse, “the best flower of all”. Their children had been smuggled away to Europe for safety and a better life — or a life more reminiscent of Kabul in the seventies. There is a kibbutz garden three miles from Gaza with mangled shell casings acting as plant pots. And within Gaza itself, several stick in the mind: the Commonwealth War Cemetery, home to the graves of 3,200 British and Commonwealth servicemen killed fighting the Turks in 1917, yet another corner of a foreign field that is forever London, or Denbigh, or Northamptonshire; a hydroponic rooftop garden in Gaza city; the orchard garden of an apiarist right on the border with Israel.
The latter sets Snow thinking of Yeats, his nine-bean rows and his bee-loud glade, and ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ becomes something of a motif. But another less wellknown poetic delight comes in the shape of the extract from a poem by Vita Sackville-West with which Lalage Snow chooses to open War Gardens: “So does the gardener in little way / Maintain the bastion of his opposition / And by a symbol keep civility”.
Last word, though, to Winston Churchill, whom Snow turns to for the epigraph to a chapter on Afghanistan: “War is the natural occupation of man,” he once said to Siegfried Sassoon. “War — and gardening.”