Thursday, July 12, 2012

In the Garden

Today I'm continuing some important chapter revisions, focusing on Siegfried Sassoon's fictionalized memoirs (known sometimes as the Sherston Trilogy), which make for an excellent read. But I started the morning in my little patio garden, tending to my plants. I've managed to coax nasturtiums, lavender, thyme, "microgreens" (fancy lettuce sprouts), and heliotrope to sprout over the last few months. It is a soothing pastime. It brought me to peruse the IWM's collections database for images related to gardens from the First World War era.

I found this:

Edith Bainbrigge. Kensington Gardens in War-time, 1914. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 4734)
Bainbrigge's watercolor shows an extensive encampment in Kensington Gardens, London. The crisp white tents stand out along the water's edge. There's something about the way she hyphenates "war-time" in her title that suggests to me a tentativeness, the slight awkwardness of the new--as though when we walk in a pair of just-bought shoes for the first time. Perhaps it's just my imagination, but as a close reader by trade, these little details really strike me. The 1914 date of the sketch certainly indicates that the image comes from the first few months of war, so the sense of slightly uncomfortable newness about "war-time" is supported. 

Anyway, I'm wondering if Bainbrigge's image depicts a training camp established in the park and/or something related to the famously strange "Exhibition Trenches" dug in Kensington Gardens to show the civilian populace what trench life was like. It isn't difficult to guess that these trenches were far too ideal, far too neat and tidy, to reflect much of their actual counterparts. In fact, Paul Fussell writes that Wilfred Owen declared them to be "the laughing stock of the army" (Fussell, 49). Succinctly, Fussell says, "[t]he reality was different" (49).

Though for the ghosts of 1914 the Kensington Trenches were a blatant example of the imaginary failing to meet the real, gardens, like many projects, always do mix a bit of the actual and the ideal--we hope for and picture a hearty, vibrant, patch of greenery though our tender leaves and scrawny stems may not exactly match this vision. Gardens plant the gardener firmly in reality, toiling and tending each day as we inch nearer the verdant Ardens of our imagining.

© Fiona Robinson

No comments:

Post a Comment