BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 01 June '18

Gardening charity airlifts thousands of seeds to Syrian refugees

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 may have come to an end, but hundreds of Syrian refugees in Iraq are only just beginning to reap the benefits. Ahead of the show, they received 2,000 seed packets, sent by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), in an act reminiscent of a similar seed delivery one century ago.

In 1918, at the end of World War I, the RHS sent cases of seeds to British prisoners of war in the Ruhleben camp in Germany. Both initiatives prove that gardening and plants bring hope, comfort and sanctuary to those displaced by war.

The healing power of gardens

The RHS is working with The Lemon Tree Trust, which staged a Show Garden – designed by Tom Massey – inspired by gardening in the Domiz Camp, Northern Iraq where the seeds have been delivered.

Aveen Ismail – who, along with her family, fled her home in Damascus – said, ‘Syria is green, but here it was like a desert until we started growing plants and trees. Creating a garden was a way for us to heal and remind us of home.’

Aveen added, ’When we learned about the donation from the RHS, we were thankful not only for the seeds but also for a feeling of friendship with other gardeners across the world.’

Stephanie Hunt, founder of the Lemon Tree Trust said that while refugee camps often suffer from difficulties including overcrowding, lack of food or basic sanitation, ‘they also become places of hope and ingenuity, places where people raise their children, attend school, and rebuild their lives. The simple act of planting a tree can be seen as a symbol of hope for the future.’

Ruhleben and Domiz Camps

There are endless similarities between the two stories – including the sort of seeds requested by both the prisoners, who wrote to the RHS, and the refugees, who were asked what seeds they required.

Both camps requested a mixture of cut flowers seeds, such as marigolds and sunflowers, to bring colour, beauty and to revive memories of home, along with edibles such as peppers and cucumbers to grow food in these harsh conditions.

‘The story of the Ruhleben Horticultural Society came to mind due to the striking parallels of the human need to grow and nurture, even in confined and challenging circumstances.

‘100 years on the RHS is delighted to be working with The Lemon Tree Trust to once again help displaced people living in difficult conditions reap some joy from the benefits of gardening.’

SUE BIGGS
RHS director general