Of Heroines, Gardens and the Spirit to Carry On

We all have heroes, heroines and mentors in our lives. My mum, of course, is one of them for me. And since if feels as though we are at war with the Covid-19 virus, I have been, over the last number of days, reminiscing about my Mum’s stories of hardship, struggle and determination to stay the course experienced through her days during WW II in London.

But I also, of course, admire other individuals too. Someone whom I have especially admired over the years is Eleanor Roosevelt. I admire her in so many ways. One reason I admire her in particular is because of her determined efforts on this side of the Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War.

Although the Victory Garden program was not Eleanor Roosevelt’s original idea, she did a lot to bring attention to the program during the War, having overcome opposition to establish one on the grounds of the White House, even opposition from the President himself. The Victory Garden was also called “War Gardens” or “Food Gardens for Defence.” George Washington Carver also contributed by writing a tract entitled “Nature’s Garden for Victory and Peace” in 1942 promoting the value of home gardening and wild plants for food. These gardens raised vegetables, fruit and also herbs. They were planted not only at private residences but also even in public parks. You would find them in the United States, but also, for example, in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia during both the First and Second World Wars.

While we might not readily think of planting gardens as an important war activity on the home front, it certainly did become so. During the Second World War, governments encouraged people to plant victory gardens not only to supplement their rations but also to boost their spirits. It was a matter of remaining busy doing something meaningful and important.

Individuals responded by growing their own food in backyards, schoolyards, and even in window boxes. Individuals from all kinds of different circumstances participated. Perhaps one of the most famous wartime gardeners was eleven-year-old Diana, who was the daughter of presidential advisor Harry Hopkins. Eleanor Roosevelt’s plan for the garden on the White House grounds was for it to be an example of what could be achieved even by children: “it will be a small thing, children can grow things they are apt to want to grow in a very small space.” The gardeners set aside a two foot by two foot plot in which Diana raised beans, carrots, tomatoes, and cabbages by hand.

Significantly, Diana’s efforts attracted the President’s attention. In his address the next year President Roosevelt’s altered view was clear:

“I hope every American who possibly can will grow a victory garden this year. We found out last year that even the small gardens helped. The total harvest from victory gardens was tremendous. It made the difference between scarcity and abundance.”

Still, the gardens represented even more than valuable war time food production. They stood as small commitments to the war effort and for the values that underlined that effort. They stood as testaments to an inner resolve to move forward and do what needed to be done. They were a way in which all could contribute. So, while we are not in a conventional war, we are, nevertheless, in a type of war with this virus. In view of this, we at RSE want to raise the possibility that each family make a special effort to grow something for themselves and for their neighbours.  Gardening not only increases the available food supply, but also lifts our spirits and resolve too.

And speaking of gardening, RSE would also like to draw your attention to the “Pollinate Collingwood” program that is slated for this spring and summer in which efforts are made to encourage the well-being of pollinators, butterflies, bees and birds among others, so very crucial for our food supply. RSE is excited to participate in this initiative and will have “Pollinator” gardens cultivated in the front lawn of the Rectory. We look forward to your visit of our gardens and will keep you posted as to how things are coming along. We also welcome your sharing of your plans, with videos and pictures being especially welcome as we get into the warmer weather.

These are difficult days. There is no getting around this reality. We need to continue to put our health and those of others first and follow the directives. We need, too, to stay calm, positive and do things which will benefit ourselves, our family and our community.  

Let’s Carry On!


Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, “It can’t be done.”


-Eleanor Roosevelt




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