Gar­dens of hope amidst ter­ri­ble cru­elty

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Books -

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.”

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