Vol 79, Issue No. 1 (Winter 2021)
Members click here for the full issue
The View from Here by Elizabeth Lawson
Climate Change and the Primula Collection TM by Merrill Jensen
Behind the Scenes at the Seed Exchange by Maedythe Martin
A New Image Resource
Barnhaven, Propagation and Castles by J Mitchell and L Lawson
John Rea, Historical Notes by Maedythe Martin
Planting a Seed by Dean Wiegert, Secretary
APS as ICRA Primula Update by Patricia Hartman
2021 Spring Election Minutes November 22, 2020
Officers of the Chapters
The View from Here
by ELIZABETH LAWSON
It is still winter as I write, but we have made it into 2021 where new plans are afoot. A friend in the UK who follows primroses sent me an article about Italy’s primrose-themed COVID-19 vaccination plan. The Stefano Boeri Architetti firm along with many specialized consultants has proposed 1,500 pop-up vaccination pavilions in the shape of a primrose that will be placed in Italy’s major piazzas. Thoughtfully designed for disassembly and reassembly, these timber-framed structures are solar-paneled and constructed with a variety of recycled and recyclable materials.
An important part of the vaccination campaign is the slogan “Italy is reborn with a flower.” Many of the articles about the design refer to the choice of the “humble” primrose as symbol of hope and renewal. In a press release Boeri Architetti salutes the primrose as the first flower “to blossom after the long winter and announce the reawakening of nature and the arrival of spring… This flower is the element that will link every aspect of the campaign….It will be clearly visible from above as large versions of it will be printed on the pavilion roofs, side walls and information totems.” The firm has released striking images showing their projections of the bright-pink primrose-roofed pavilions glowing in Italy’s most iconic settings. I think I can say for all of us at APS that we congratulate Boeri et al. for honoring the primrose in this important campaign.
Meanwhile I have continued my reading of Sue Stuart-Smith’s The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature (2020). Her thesis is that the work of gardening in the natural world both mimics and supports the “gardening” going on in the brain, particularly when damage has occurred, in the form of illness, abuse, addiction, and war, for example, or the loss of loved ones and livelihood in a pandemic. In one particularly affecting chapter called “War and Gardens,” Stuart-Smith describes how chaplain John Stanhope Walker created a garden at the Somme, where one of the most horrific of battles occurred. One million men, of the three million present, were killed or maimed during the 141 days of the Somme offensive. Walker wrote home that while few wanted to attend his sermons, “The garden is really gorgeous and the sides of the tent are down so the patients just gaze out at it.” During a walk on newly captured territory after the British had advanced, he found outside a German dugout “auriculas, shrubs and roses in tubs, window boxes and flower pots” that had been tended right in the midst of fighting.
In her discussion of horticultural therapy, Stuart-Smith weaves in many stories that should not be forgotten. The term used in WWI for soldiers suffering from war trauma was neurasthenia or shell shock, perhaps now categorized as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Arthur Brock, a doctor at Craiglockhart Hospital, (seen left) outside Edinburgh, a place where soldiers in WWI were sent to recover from shell shock, advocated his own brand of nature cure for disengaged patients rather than the usual bed-rest-and-milk-diet cure or electric shock therapy. This meant tending a garden, walking in the Pentland Hills, studying local botany and geology in order to compose a Regional Survey, writing for the hospital magazine, and lecturing at the Field Club. Brock used the myth of Antaeus as inspiration for his treatment. Antaeus was a giant of great strength who could only be defeated when his feet were lifted off the ground, a secret that Hercules discovered and used to defeat him in a wrestling match. Brock didn’t approve of “picture houses” where movies offered distraction from reality. He wanted his patients’ feet on the ground literally and mentally.
Wilfred Owen (1893–1918), often named the greatest poet of WWI, spent a year at Craiglockhart from 1917 to 1918 recuperating from shell shock. He had been thrown into the air by a mortar bomb and lay unconscious on the battlefield for two days. By all accounts the year at Craiglockhart offered him the chance to heal enough to complete a lasting body of work. Patients received the following encouragement to write for The Hydra, the hospital magazine: “We notice many officers standing about doing nothing. Next time you have nothing to do, go and write something. It will probably be printed, and there is a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing one’s efforts in print.” In addition to the poems he wrote for The Hydra, he gave a lecture to the Field Club titled “Do plants think?” in which he described a plant’s responses to environmental stimuli as analogous to a sensory system. Owen recovered at Craiglockhart and returned to the front, only to be killed a week later at age 25. Glen Art, a Scottish charity that supports veterans, released this press release in 2017:
Glen Art in partnership with The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and The Wilfred Owen Association have teamed up to create an incredibly poignant garden at this year’s Gardening Scotland to commemorate the CWGC’s centenary and that of Wilfred Owen’s stay at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh in 1917.The ‘One Hundred Years of Remembrance’ garden is a first for the CWGC at the Gardening Scotland show and was designed by the Commission’s very own Gardener Caretaker First Class, Robert Ross and will be built and created by veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from Glen Art. (https://www.glenart.co.uk/gardening-scotland/)
Owen was fortunate in that last year to find a mentor at Craiglockhart, poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967), also being treated for shell shock. Sassoon shared literary connections with the younger man, and their poems appeared together in The Hydra. Both faced criticism for finding war unbearable. Unlike Owen, Sassoon survived a return to the front and lived a long life. His poem below seems to describe the promise of next year’s primroses from this vantage point:
Aged self, disposed to lose his hold on life, Looks down, at winter’s ending, and perceives Continuance in some crinkled primrose leaves A noise of nesting rooks in tangled trees. Stillness — inbreathed, expectant. Shadows that bring Cloud-castled thoughts from downland distances. Eyes, ears are old. But not the sense of spring. Look, listen, live, some inward watcher warns. Absorb this moment’s meaning: and be wise With hearts whom the first primrose purifies.