25th November 2013
The design concept.
The design concept has of course now been completed. The garden is conceptual and promulgates the idea that after four years of fighting again and again over the same land along the 450 miles of Western Front which stretched from the North Sea to the Alps, the land had to regenerate naturally and organically over time. This is unlike the towns and villages which were rebuilt.
And now 100 years later, while traces can still be seen in places of the fighting, there has been great regeneration. This is a metaphor for the way in which the human body and spirit is badly damaged by warfare but people do still come through.
The garden is made up of three principal areas. At the front of the site is a water feature which represents the mine craters dotted all along the Western Front. It is surrounded by plants which can tolerate wet conditions and at the outer fringes we will be putting river birch (Betula nigra).
Alongside the water is a trench which is at a lower level which people will be able to walk along and get the feel of what it might have been like because on the other side of the trench is tall polished concrete wall which runs all along the length of the garden.
In the centre of the garden is what I have called the Lost Gardens Zone which has French limestone setts on the ground inter-planted with low planting. This area represents the town squares of the many small towns and villages which suffered so badly and where one can still see signs of old gardens. It is approached by three wide generous steps made of Portland Stone and at the far end is large feature wall with a slit which symbolises two things the firing platform in a trench and also the main building of the town. Two beautiful multi-stem Field Maples (Acer campestre) dominate the area and provide shelter from rain and sun.
Beyond this, is a grass mound, representing the downland of the Somme surrounded with a series of undulating smaller mounds similar to areas along the Western Front where old trenches have been gradually filled in and planted over but are still visible.
Growing my plants
Now that it is all underway, I am reflecting on what needs to be done. First of all we will need to grow our plants for the garden. We have decided to grow around 9000 perennials, annuals, bulbs and grasses for the garden. Our planting palette is to be mainly Northern European native planting including some wild flowers. We have been lucky enough to have Kelways agree to do this. And in fact they have been so supportive that Dave Root of Kelways even started growing some of the really difficult plants before we even had approval from the RHS to go ahead seven months before the Show!
Kelways is a long established nursery in Somerset which actually specialises in peonies and irises but has also built up a great reputation for supplying fantastic plants for Chelsea Show Gardens. They even supplied all the Australian plants for the Best in Show Winner from 2013! But they are also growing our plants on for us. I am off down there soon to see our first plants growing and will visit many times over the next six months.
Our trees are being sourced by Mark Straver of Hortus loci. Mark is a Chelsea stalwart and has worked with literally scores of garden designers for Chelsea so he is really the Chelsea tree guru. His nursery supplies a large proportion of my client gardens anyway and I know that I will be in good hands.