Growing a Ukrainian Garden

This year I once again couldn’t go to Ukraine. I miss my family, but I also miss our garden in Bereh. Over the years that I have been visiting my grandmother, I became a gardener in my own right, making my planting arrangements and tending to flowers. For my grandmother, the garden was a source of sustenance and a place of safety, and I too began to see it as our small paradise. Even when the news were dire, working in the garden calmed me and restored my spirit.

Being away from Bereh, I longed for such a place. In my apartment, there is a small balcony, but I also share a couple of flower beds in front of the building with others in the neighborhood. Since nobody wanted to take care of them, I decided to plant the flowers and herbs that evoked Ukraine for me. I bought seeds for tagettes, sweet peas, hollyhocks, marigolds, cosmos, nigella, basil, thyme and mint. I planted lovage and anemones, wild strawberries and roses. The space was too small for everything I wanted to include, but I tried anyway.

As Russia bombarded the towns where I grew up or where I had spent my childhood, I tilled the earth and planted. I watered. I waited. I hoped. The people passing by observed my efforts and stopped by to chat, dropping their usual Belgian reserve. As the garden began to sprout, I met more neighbors from other buildings. It was the first time in my decade in Brussels that I truly felt like I belonged.

I wanted to share with you a few images of my garden and its flowers. Most of the things I planted sprouted and bloomed. Some flowers sprung up where I didn’t plant them. I let them make their own way.

My biggest surprise was a beautiful sunflower that sprouted without me doing anything about it. Did someone throw a seed? Did a bird drop it? Either way, it’s now tall and splendid, the most quintessential of Ukrainian flowers. I look forward to it blooming.

Do you have a garden or plants at home? What do you grow? What do you wish you could grow? If you are in the EU, do you have favorite online stores for garden supplies and plants? Also, if you have a recommendation for a fragrant rose that would do well in the Belgian climate, I would be grateful.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Meredith Russell: Hollyhocks, marigolds, sweet peas, sunflowers, my grandmother’s garden in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming! Love that two tone sweet peas, and thread red hollyhock! August 11, 2023 at 8:24am Reply

    • Victoria: I was surprised how strong these sweet peas smell, like freesia with a hint of pear. August 11, 2023 at 9:58am Reply

  • Marsha Smith: Lovely! August 11, 2023 at 9:52am Reply

  • Kim Gomez: What a cornucopia of colours and variety of shapes. I have also experienced the comfort of tending a garden, the earthy scent of the soil and the warmth of the sun on one’s face on my roof terrace in Amsterdam. As I am from the Caribbean, I planted a jasmine vine which has caught on well. At night my Mum’s garden was filled with the perfume of jasmine and lilies and in summer I am often transported back home. Wishing you joy, Victoria, in your garden. August 11, 2023 at 10:00am Reply

    • Victoria: I can just imagine how wonderful your jasmine smells when it blooms. August 14, 2023 at 4:34am Reply

  • Rosie: I’m reading The Rooster House, and really enjoying 😊 so far.

    My favourite roses are David Austen’s Old Roses- the website is very comprehensive and the free brochure is a real treat.
    My favourites are the double medium pink ‘Jaqueline Cartier’, the beautiful ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, and the large cupped ‘Golden Celebration’, these will all tolerate some shade and are pretty hardy and fairly resistant to black spot. (I’m in the Uk, so similar climate).All Rich old rose scent August 11, 2023 at 10:02am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Rosie! 😊

      I also like David Austen’s old roses, so I need to check if there is a source for them here. August 14, 2023 at 4:35am Reply

  • Rosie: ‘Jaques Cartier’ not Jaqueline. August 11, 2023 at 10:04am Reply

  • AndreaR: Beautiful flowers with memories of your family and now a connection with neighbors. How lovely.
    My Ukrainian Canadian grandmothers had cosmos, hollyhocks and dinner plate size dahlias in their gardens along with dill, chives and camomile. I can still smell the chives that lined the walkway to one grandmother’s house. August 11, 2023 at 10:26am Reply

    • Victoria: Dill and chives are a must! August 14, 2023 at 4:35am Reply

  • Nina: What a beautiful image you created for us! Your love of nature and the memories of your homeland and Grandmother are kept alive by you pouring that energy into the garden and it gives love back through the gorgeous flowers all get to enjoy. I love that the flowers connected your neighbors too. Thank you for sharing the images of the flowers with us. And prayers for the Ukrainian people! August 11, 2023 at 10:58am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s so nice to meet other people this way. Even those who don’t have gardens come and chat about mine. August 14, 2023 at 4:36am Reply

  • Anastasia: Indeed my garden is a place of happiness and a place to get away when things are hard. I live in a flat but I have large balconies so I have many plants. I love roses, they are not so easy to grow in pots, but it’s worth the effort, their fragrance and beauty is such a pleasure! I live in Greece, so I am afraid the climate is too different for recommendations. Anyway, 2 of my favorite roses are Gartentraume, Tantau’s and Senteurs de printemps. David Austen’s Old Roses as Rosie said above, are indeed beautiful, ‘Golden Celebration’ and ‘Jubilee Celebration’ being 2 lovely among them. I have large pots with jasmine (4 different types) that climb and make a wall so that I don’t see the buildings around. I also have a plumeria tree (frangipani) that is blooming now. A mimosa tree, a mandarin tree, olives, mint, irises etc…Plants that I love and do well in colder climates are camelias! They have splendid evergreen foliage and exquisite blooms. The flowers are not fragrant, but their beauty is incomparable! Try camellias Victoria! Iris is also cold hardy, you can plant the bulbs in the pots of other plants and the magnificent flowers appear every spring!  August 11, 2023 at 11:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for these wonderful ideas. I will take a look at the roses you mentioned. Also, I did plant a camelia, but it’s indoors. I wonder if it may not do better outside in a pot. What do you think? August 14, 2023 at 4:37am Reply

      • Hamamelis: I have a camelia outside, close to a south facing wall. It has survived many cold winters and often blackbirds nest in it. It flowers profusely in spring. Late frosts will damage the flowers a bit, but I suspect there is less of a danger for that in a city microclimate. August 14, 2023 at 12:15pm Reply

        • Victoria: I will see how it goes. Thank you for your advice. August 28, 2023 at 5:48am Reply

      • Hamamelis: Another wonderfully scented shrub to grow is the papershrub, Edgeworthia chrysantia. It flowers in winter, when we need it most! Buddhist monks used to make paper from its stem, hence the name. My sister bought me one after she smelled it in the middle of Haarlem city. August 14, 2023 at 12:21pm Reply

        • Victoria: How interesting! I’ve never heard about this plant. I will have to look for it. August 28, 2023 at 5:49am Reply

  • Aurora: So glad your tending the flowerbeds gave you a sense of home. I too have a balcony but I am in fact growing plants inside, two geraniums, a peace lily and an African violet. We have many roses in the neighborhood, I wish I knew their names, one smells of passion fruit, delicious. August 11, 2023 at 11:43am Reply

    • Victoria: I associate African violets with my paternal grandmother. She had a big collection of them and I always found it fascinating that you can just take a leaf and grow a new plant out of it. August 14, 2023 at 4:38am Reply

      • Aurora: I feel the same, it’s like magic, such a hardy little plant. Blue African violets are especially pleasing, happy of this coincidence with your ‘other’ grandmother. August 14, 2023 at 1:58pm Reply

        • Victoria: They’re so rewarding. August 28, 2023 at 5:51am Reply

  • Geraldine Ethen: My “garden of Eden” is on my back deck in Portland, Oregon. I have hanging red begonias, hanging red geraniums, pots of various pink geraniums, petunias of various colors, a papyrus plant, and various roses on the lawn, pink and white. It’s my place of peace and escape—and also an entertaining area in summer. Everyone who comes loves the area! August 11, 2023 at 1:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your garden sounds wonderful! August 14, 2023 at 4:38am Reply

  • Lucy: Beautifully done. That rose is astonishingly perfect. This is such a good way to beautify your surroundings and be neighborly. This keeps up your gardening skills. Some day you will be able to return and restore the family garden in Ukraine. I have a couple of plant pots on my fire escape, but mostly rely on the nearby park and Botanic Garden for green. August 11, 2023 at 1:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: I was surprised how well it grew, considering that there was not much space for the bush. But it’s blooming profusely. August 14, 2023 at 4:39am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Splendid, what a joy to see all those beautiful flowers! I love old fashioned gardens. Once, say 10 years ago, I visited a small town in Eastern Germany. There, I saw many gardens which looked exactly as if the were a cinematic backdrop to film taking place before WWII. It’s a mix of the right low fences, a leisurely medley of flowers of all sizes and colours next to the odd tomato, and high trees. I wish I had such a garden! August 11, 2023 at 2:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: I love this type of garden and I wish I had more space for one. August 14, 2023 at 4:40am Reply

  • Bregje: Lovely, i love the sweetpeas
    I’m still in the process of planting and rearranging things. I got a little sidetracked because i suddenly had to catproof my garden because my next door neighbours don’t like my kittens.
    But my jasmine plants are doing very well now.
    I would also love to know of a fragrant rose that does well here so i’ll be following this thread.
    Oh and i love that you felt/feel like you belong. August 11, 2023 at 7:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also have white and purple sweetpeas and they smell differently. The white ones smell like Indian incense, while the purple ones remind me of roses. August 14, 2023 at 4:41am Reply

  • Hamamelis: How wonderful to read about your gardening as a way of healing and dealing with the war. I have a large garden, and have both flower borders and a vegetable garden on a raised bed. We have poor sandy soil, but with a lot of TLC in the form of compost, worm fertilizer and no tilling to keep the fungi happy and bring in more worms it has improved a lot.
    I grow many flowers, and many of them are pollinator friendly: nepeta, geraniums, salvia’s, agastache, sunflowers, echinacea and different kinds of thyme, and a helichrysum as I love its scent. Roses need a lot of extra care here. A lovely plant to grow is asclepias incarnata, it has a vanilla scent and flowers throughout summer, and it is visited by lots of pollinators.
    I highly recommend nursery, they ship to Belgium and have a large assortment of lavender and many other beautiful plants, and garden tools. Their website is in Dutch, but I am happy to translate.
    For a very fragrant and disease resistant rose, that tolerates some shade, I recommend Konigin von Denmark. It is an ‘old fashioned’ alba rose, with large light to deep pink flowers. It will definitely grow in Belgium! Also I am happy to send you some seeds, poppies in all kinds of colour and phacelia which the bees love! It is an annual and when it dies it feeds the soil. August 12, 2023 at 1:20pm Reply

    • Bregje: Thank you again for your expertise😉
      The asclepias sounds wonderful!
      I’ll look up the rose as well. August 12, 2023 at 2:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for your suggestion and your kind offer. I’m taking notes. Right now, I’m on and the site looks great. I’ve signed up for their newsletter and I might place an order soon. August 14, 2023 at 4:43am Reply

  • Matty Maccaro: Thank you Vika, for the wonderful photos. Nuturing a garden is one of the nicest things that human beings do. Unfortunately, I no longer have a garden, it was so nice to see yours. Also, I am loving your book which my library just bought & am reading it slowly, learning so much, your writing is wonderful! August 12, 2023 at 8:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Matty! August 14, 2023 at 4:43am Reply

  • Neisha: My favorite rose is the Double Delight, it’s a heritage rose, with cream colored petals with raspberry red edges. To me it smells exactly of rose kulfi.

    It grows well here in Portland, so I expect it would also do well in Brussels.

    I’m so sorry this pointless war is hurting so many, especially you. I hope it ends soon August 12, 2023 at 8:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much. This rose looks gorgeous! August 14, 2023 at 4:44am Reply

  • Potimarron: My garden and allotment are a source of great joy for me. I grow a mixture of flowers and edibles. The flowers are more successful (particularly dahlias and cosmos, but I’ve tried a lime green nicotiana this year that has unbelievable vase life). Sweet peas keep defeating me though, which is frustrating because they’re something my mum grows and I’d like to have that link with her (we’re both in the UK, but our garden is drier and more exposed). Discoveries that I’ve made since having my own garden: pinks (Dianthus), Hesperis (also known as sweet rocket – a scented biennial that seems to glow in shade and resistant to pests) and alpine strawberries (the birds ignore them, and they don’t send runners everywhere). I have buds like yours on my sunflowers too. As to scented roses, I’m a bit stumped (ours aren’t scented). Maybe Rosa moschata? August 13, 2023 at 2:45am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s interesting which plants grow well and which do not. I have no luck with basils this year, apart from the Asian ones. Slugs are also a problem here. August 14, 2023 at 4:45am Reply

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