Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Victory (Gardens)!

I harbor a fondness for certain kinds of posters, though I do not own any. The animated Realism of Soviet, Fascist, and even Nazi propaganda posters that celebrate the virile body, the learned and sacrificial self, and the committed family in the service of the nation command my attention with their visceral simplicity. Of course we in the West might look upon such posters as amusing, perhaps even as forms of folk art. We may think we are better than to be swayed by such overt commandments from our governments. But one really only needs to scratch the proverbial surface to find examples in liberal Western democracies of similar kinds of propaganda (and, digging deeper, corresponding response).

War (or the path leading up to war) contains its own exigencies and demands which, I suppose, come to create a peculiar context (and logic) within which different seeds of ideas and kernels of near-truths may be planted and, with appropriate meddling, cultivated into grand historical narratives that compel peoples and nations to do awful things. As you stare at those posters, you can feel that something is about to happen in part because you know something awful did happen: indeed, several awful things, to be slightly more exact.

Today, many of us cannot fathom in our wildest imaginations the kinds of deprivations others experience in the face of revolution, war, and dictatorship. If the video game and the occasional film can easily conjure war’s violence, the same do not and cannot replicate the scarcities. Our imaginations are all the poorer, we all the more self-referential.

To mitigate nutritional deprivations caused by war, various governments—the US, Canada, the UK, and Germany—called upon their populations to plant their small parcels of land with vegetables, fruit, and herbs. The Victory Garden, as it came to be called (I feel inexplicably compelled to capitalize these grass-roots endeavors, perhaps out of respect), emerged as an idiosyncratic and unexpected connection between the home-bound and the combatant abroad. Gardening itself became an act of resistance, an affiliate of warfare, and extension of patriotic pride and self-responsibility. If “Every Garden a Munition Plant” and “Our Food is Fighting” roused Americans to sow seeds from NY’s Upper West Side Riverside to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, “Dig for Victory” incited British public officials to plow plots in London’s Hyde Park.
But gardening was not war. It was an affiliate of war. Gardening was victory. And victory was gardening.

I am reminded of Victory Gardens as I achieve my own victories in my amateur gardening life. Last year my Aunt Annie brought me clumps of a lovely, fern-like groundcover, but she could not recall its name. I have searched on the internet for nearly 1 year, testing all kinds of descriptors like “silver leaf ground cover,” “silver fuzzy leaf plants,” and innumerable variations on the same color and texture oriented themes. But to no avail, until several weeks ago when I thought I found my answer: Pteris ensiformis. To be sure, I was skeptical because of the plant’s tropical origins. Sure, Delaware is rather warm and humid these days, but having lived in both Cambodia and Houston I can verily state that, no matter how often I curse the weather while dripping with perspiration, Delaware is not tropical.

Yesterday, what I thought to be Pteris produced a diminutive yellow flower (which, to my knowledge, ferns do not do), and so this morning I searched for “yellow flower ground cover.”  Several pages into a rather extensive botanical guide, I found it: Argentina anserina! The photograph corresponded exactly to my own specimen. I cross-checked my findings, thinking I was once again mistaken, but every other search verified the data. Victory was mine! Silver Cinquefoil, a.k.a. Silverweed, indeed flourishes in my shade gardens, and looks splendid and regal with its silver coat shimmering as breezes gently sway its frond-like appendages.

And another victory became apparent this morning: what I thought to be Uvularia grandiflora or Large Flowered Bellwort is actually Disporum flavens (the search for “yellow flower ground cover” also yielded non-ground cover yellow-flowering spring plants, of which Disporum flavens or Asian Fairy Bells was one). Odd, since the two plants really do look very much alike, but they even come from different botanical families (Uvularia is a member of the Lily or Liliaceae family, while Disporum is of the Colchicaceae clan).

Such victories pale in comparison to the fortitude of all those Victory Gardeners during the wars, but victories are rather subjective affairs. Germany may have lost both wars, but those civilians who survived, perhaps in part by cultivating small plots of land for sustenance emerged victorious in their own right. Victories are everywhere, great and small. We just need to learn how to appreciate and savor them.


  1. Lovely yellow Disporum you have! I do prefer that to the Uvularia...
    If you are picky with names the correct scientific name for the species is actually Disporum uniflorum - eventhough it definitely have more than one flower per stalk... And both Disporum and Uvularia is actually members of Colchicaceae - even the only two genera in the same tribe: Uvularieae!

  2. Hello "Anonymous!" I am picky with scientific names, so *many* thanks for correcting my obviously poor research! I obviously fell victim to false, popular information; the mix-up is actually noted on the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens Checklist. Thanks for your clarification, and for reading!