DESIGN David Domoney SPONSOR Commonwealth War Graves Commission CONTRACTOR Arun Landscapes
"THE COMMONWEALTH War Graves Commission is celebrating its centenary this year. The organisation maintains the cemeteries, burial plots and memorials of 1.7 million men and women who lost their lives in the two world wars, in 154 countries. It has a special emotional connection for me, because my grandfather was injured in the First World War at Le Cateau during The Battle of Ancre on the River Somme, but thankfully, he survived.
“Here I wanted to create a garden in recognition of the lives lost. Any visit to a CWGC cemetery has a strong impact and leaves a lasting impression. It certainly puts all our day-to-day worries into context when you consider how many people have lost their lives defending the freedoms we enjoy.
“Creating a garden for the CWGC is as a big a challenge as it is an honour. After all, how does one condense the horticultural landscape of an organisation that measures its borders in kilometres, plants in the tens of thousands and mows the equivalent of 1,000 football pitches every week, into the space we have at Chelsea? Here I’ve taken inspiration from the sites I’ve visited and focused on the emotional self-awareness of peace. Using raised platforms for enclosure, fluid movement of boundaries, and tranquil planting.
“We’re using a circular design not just because it makes the garden seem bigger and more fluid, but also because it has an emblematic connection with the CWGC – most of the graves carry a circular emblem showing the regiment of each soldier.
“At the garden’s centre is a seating area where you’ll be able to see your own reflection in a mirrored surface.
“Perhaps the single most obvious element that’s been influenced by the CWGC sites is the arch that visitors will enter the garden through. The inspiration for this came from a bronze wreath fixed to one of the surviving German concrete pill boxes within Tyne Cot Military Cemetery in Belgium. The cemetery actually takes its name from these features as the men of the Northumberland Fusiliers thought they looked like Tyne Cottages. The cemetery is the largest CWGC site in the world – with almost 12,000 graves – and will be the focus for this year’s 100th anniversary commemorations for the Battle of Passchendaele in July.
“The handmade bricks marking out the perimeter of the garden will be selected from stock used to restore the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in France. Thiepval, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world.
“The garden has a raised platform with railings on either side of Portland stone steps. The railings are being hand-made by blacksmiths in France and will have leaves on them engraved with the names of the 154 countries in which CWGC operates.
“The planting comprises a sea of alliums to represent fallen soldiers, alongside aquilegias, digitalis, armerias and hostas, plus others predominantly in purple and mauve-pink for a soft yet vibrant look. To create a sense of seclusion I’m using eight multi-stemmed Acer palmatum trees arranged around the central raised platform so you walk up onto the platform to survey the garden through the canopy of the trees.
“The biggest challenge lies in the fact it’s an artisan garden so you can’t penetrate the ground. This means you have to be very clever about how you hide the pots – particularly those the big trees are in. In a garden this size every centimetre counts.”