By Jill Severn

A startling image appeared on TV news last week: In the foreground, a patch of brilliant red tulips bloomed; right behind them, a Ukrainian house was in ruins. In the aftermath of the brutal violence, the tulips remained calm and carried on, as bright and beautiful as ever.

A few days later, the New York Times reported that “The Saltivka markets have been hit hard. . . But some parts have reopened, including flower stalls, where one resident, Olga Pavlienko, who was shopping with her sister, bought armfuls of brightly colored plants last week.

“These flowers, they heal our souls,” she said. “We have suffered a lot and I pray for peace as soon as possible.”

Olga Pavlienko reminds us of the connection between flowers and the state of our souls – not our souls as they might be in an unknowable beyond, but the souls that live within us right now – the souls that feed on beauty, no bread.

It’s amazing how the need for beauty of living flowers is amplified by the presence of death and chaos. You might think the opposite would be true. But disasters like war bring out both the lowest and highest instincts of our particular human species.

Here in our own communities, we’ve seen this during the pandemic: resentment over masks and mandates was about evenly matched with extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion – and a dramatic increase in gardening that left the shelves at almost empty seeds in April 2020. We needed flowers to heal our souls too.

This year, as we witness the war from afar, more of us are planting sunflowers to show our solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Before the Russian invasion, their sunflower fields produced 46% of the world’s sunflower oil supply, but perhaps even more important than we thought, they were ravishingly beautiful.

But we can do more than plant sunflowers. Lacey has a sister city in Poland called Minsk-Mazowiecki. This city has another sister city – Borodyanka – in Ukraine. It is now in ruins and many of its inhabitants have been victims of Russian war crimes. The mayors of these three cities have become friends, and the mayor of Lacey, Andy Ryder, is currently in Minsk-Mazowiecki for the celebration of his 600and anniversary.

The Lacey-Minsk-Mazowiecki Sister City Association (a registered non-profit organization) has raised funds to help its sister city cope with the influx of more than a thousand Ukrainian refugees, many of whom live in local houses.

These more than 1,000 refugees arrived in this town of 41,000 people, a place smaller than Lacey. They need food, clothes, long-term housing, vocational training and private Polish lessons so that they can work and their children can go to school. Needless to say, their presence overwhelmed the resources of this small town.

If you would like to help, donations can be sent to Association of Lacey-Minsk-Mazowiecki Sister Cities (LMMSCA) at PO Box 5992, Lacey, WA 98509-5992. They don’t have a way to donate online yet – the link is to their Facebook page. Contributions are tax deductible. They have raised $9,000 so far, but the need will continue as long as the war lasts and until Ukraine recovers.

We must do all we can to help all people like Olga Pavlienko, who has probably already planted this armful of flowers – flowers that will help heal the souls of all who see them and rekindle their hope for peace.

A note to Drutty

A loyal but mysterious reader whose pseudonym is Drutty asked last week if it’s true that peonies need ants to bloom. The short answer is no. The long answer is that peony buds are coated in a slightly sticky substance that ants like to eat (Or do they lick it? Do ants have tongues? We don’t always know.) leave when they’re done, so some people picking peonies complain about ants crawling out of their bouquets. The solution to this problem is to pick peonies when the buds are big and fat, but before they open.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversations between gardeners. Start one by emailing her at [email protected]

Aubrey L. Morgan