Gardening in a War Zone

“Sometimes I am trying to get to sleep, and I begin to think about the war, about the explosions, about this possibility that any time my dearest persons can be killed. I say to myself, do not think about that. Think about flowers,” says Alla Olkhovska.

Alla is a gardener, an expert in finicky clematis, a photographer, a writer, and a caretaker. She lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the eastern border. On the morning that the war started, she could hear the explosions and gunfire. Munitions and debris have landed just yards away from her grandmother’s home. Air alerts scream day and night and it’s common to lose electricity and gas.

Yet, every day Alla boards a public bus that drops her near her family’s garden, which her great-grandfather planted as a small apple orchard after World War II to help her struggling ancestors survive. There are still a few apple trees left, but now the garden is home to a collection of rare and stunning flowers.

And, it remains a means of survival.

While the garden is a refuge for Alla, a sanctuary she maintains despite the war, it’s also a critical lifeline for her family. She is there to collect as many seeds as she can. By selling them, Alla cares for her elderly grandmother, her mother-in-law, and her husband, who nearly lost his life to Covid-19 and has not fully regained his health.

Even as the harsh winter creeps ever closer, Alla is undeterred. With relentless optimism and a belief in the power of beauty and goodness, Alla fights for the survival of her family one seed at a time.

In addition to this short documentary film, you can read a full written interview with Alla here.


If you’d like to support Alla and her family, here’s how:

Purchase a copy of Alla’s book

If you want to learn all about clematis, Alla wrote a wonderful e-book all about them. This 124-page book includes her beautiful photography, growing advice based on her personal experience, plus her favorite varieties (organized by bloom time), and instructions on how to propagate clematis through cuttings and layering, and from seed. 

We’ve just added Alla’s new e-book all about clematis to the Floret Shop if you would like to order a copy. Since it is a digital product, it will be delivered by email right away. 100% of the proceeds from Alla’s book sales through our shop will go directly to her—purchase your copy here.

Make a donation 

If you’re not interested in seeds or a book and would like another way to help, you can simply send money. The exchange rate is very much in Alla’s favor, and what might seem like a small amount will go a long way for her and her family. 

Funds can be sent via PayPal to standwithkharkiv@gmail.com. All donations go directly to Alla, and if you enter HUMANITARIAN AID into the “What’s this payment for” field, fees and taxes will be waived. 

Subscribe to Patreon

Alla just started a Patreon account with three monthly subscription levels: snowdrop ($5 USD/month) clematis ($10 USD/month), and peony ($25 USD/month). These subscriptions will allow Alla to continue her seed-saving efforts and will support her family during the upcoming winter months. For more information, click here.

Order seeds

Please note Alla is currently sold out of seeds because of your incredible support. After she processes all of the orders, she may be able to restock a few varieties. She will be posting updates on her Instagram account. 

Alla sells seeds for clematis, peonies, phlox, and rare plants and ships worldwide. To place an order, visit her online catalogs here and here.

Follow Alla on social media

Alla has a wonderful Instagram account where she shares beautiful pictures from the garden, interesting videos of her work, and updates from Ukraine. She also has a Facebook page that you can follow and a YouTube channel that you can subscribe to. Be sure to leave her a comment and some encouraging words.  


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