World War Corona Gardening by Nancy Saporta Sternbach

Nancy Saporta Sternbach lives in Northampton, is a Straw Dog member, and is a recently retired member of Smith College’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Her current projects include a Sephardic cookbook, Sefarad, and a memoir of growing up in New York, Bellydancing in the Bronx. She loves to travel, cook, and garden.

World War Corona Gardening

It’s my favorite season, spring. Apart from new warmth, longer days, and a sudden mental and physical opening, the fresh appearance of leaves on trees enchants me. Their fancy bloom and intoxicating scent of magnolias, redbud, apples, and lilacs make me swoon; my heart sings.

All winter during the lockdown I coddled my seedlings, coaxing their growth under heat and lights. The tray of green darlings I finally set into the earth brought me a newfound happiness. But the horrific daily news reports made me liken the pandemic experience to a world war. To be sure, a different kind of violence, but the casualties shouldn’t be mistaken for anything but World War Corona. Separation from family, isolation of elders in nursing homes, birthing in true “confinement,” prohibition from embraces, not to mention the unspeakable death toll, all is war to me.

Yet everywhere, new gardeners have emerged in this “unprecedented” era of Corona gardening. In my neighborhood, first-ever lettuce plants appear on sidewalk meridians, now new gardeners weed, till, and plant. Raised beds mushroom in backyards. Children learn the provenance of food. Adults previously consumed by work now garden. Why? The podcast Gastropod asks what battle our basil is fighting compared to WWII victory gardens? I say basil and tomatoes are fighting for survival, everyone’s survival. Gardens provide food security and represent LIFE in this time of death.

Gardens allure us with color and scent, their composition is a creative act. Their beauty brings hope, even more so in an improbable garden, a WW Corona garden. This is true because green is the color of happiness. Connection to nature offers the satisfaction of doing something rather than nothing. An ephemeral structure added to a garden adds whimsy, a happiness otherwise denied by WW Corona.

The act of gardening proclaims: “I am here. I resist this crisis. I will not succumb to inertia, anxiety, or despair because that tiny plant needs me to nurture its survival. Then it will nurture mine.” When a seedling pokes its head out of the earth, it announces, “I resist death.” Our Covid-defiant gardens represent our resistance.

Everyone is grieving right now. Putting our hands in soil confronts that despair. A decade ago, anticipating mourning after my friend Elizabeth’s grim diagnosis, I built an herb garden. Every few years, I change some aspect of it, adding herbs, an oversized Buddha, new stones. Still it remains a tribute to her, a sanctuary.

Gardens promise future. By planting, we resist the virus, proclaiming we will be here to harvest in 80 days. That plant I coaxed from a tiny seed will bring me food, pleasure, beauty, self-sufficiency, sanctuary, and resistance. My gardens proclaim: I am alive.