CWGC Centenary garden celebrates 100 years of gardening excellence

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is celebrating a century of gardening excellence with an Artisan Garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Employing 850 gardeners in more than 150 countries makes the CWGC one of the largest horticultural organisations in the world, so it is fitting to showcase the CWGC’s work on this international stage in the Commission’s centenary year.

Funded by private donations and designed by horticulturist David Domoney in collaboration with CWGC Director of Horticulture David Richardson, the garden is a celebration of the continuing role of the CWGC and pays tribute to the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women commemorated by the organisation.

The garden is an intimate, calm and reflective space, which echoes the essential part horticulture plays in the CWGC’s commemoration of the war dead and showcases the traditional skills still employed by the CWGC’s staff around the globe.

CWGC Director General Victoria Wallace said: “It is a matter of great pride for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to be represented at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in this our centenary year.

“Through our horticultural efforts, we honour the fallen of two world wars across more than 150 countries, creating beautiful final resting places for servicemen and women from around the world.

“Our Artisan Garden celebrates the skills and workmanship of our international teams, and will provide a lasting focus of reflection and commemoration as it tours in our member states after the show.

“It is a great privilege to work with this fantastic team of gardeners and craftsmen, and a joy to see David Domoney and David Richardson’s collaborative design bring their work to a wider audience.”

Many of the garden’s features are symbolic of the Commission’s past, present and future. The garden uses plant species from sites in the CWGC global estate and elements and materials hand-crafted by the CWGC’s own artisans.

The beautiful entrance arch was created at the CWGC’s workshop in Ieper, Belgium, topped with a silver crown referencing the Commission’s historical links with empire. Meanwhile, the delicate steelwork – the railings, steel trees and leaves – was hand-forged by CWGC blacksmiths at the workshop in Beaurains, France.

The Portland stone steps and coping stones are made from reclaimed First World War headstones, the two statues standing guard have been recycled from the CWGC Portsmouth Naval Memorial and the hand-made red bricks are from stock used to repair the iconic CWGC Thiepval Memorial, on the Somme, last year. A central seat is, fittingly, topped with 100-year-old oak and contains the Commission’s badge carved in stone.

The garden itself uses familiar plant species frequently seen in CWGC cemeteries in northern Europe, with pale flowers, lush foliage, herbaceous and alpine plants and a calming palette of colours.

Surrounded by a Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) hedge, multi-stemmed Acer palmatum (Maples) create a canopy which provides an area for quiet contemplation. Trees have always been an essential part of any war cemetery, providing shade and intimate enclosure for visitors.

CWGC Director of Horticulture David Richardson said: “The garden has a real sense of enclosure and privacy, using a Carpinus hedge and Acer trees, typical of many CWGC cemeteries.”

He added: “In 2017, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is celebrating 100 years of great gardening. With a global gardening workforce of more than 850 men and women and a maintenance commitment of more than 700 hectares, we’re proud to be one of the world’s largest horticultural organisations.

“Our horticulture has always been an essential part of our commemoration of the war dead – ensuring the cemeteries and memorials are places of beauty and quiet remembrance for the hundreds of thousands who visit them each year. We’re delighted to have the chance to work with David Domoney and showcase our work at Chelsea.”

Horticulturist and CWCG Centenary Garden designer David Domoney said:“I am extremely honoured and delighted to be designing a garden for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s centenary this year.

“It is a great and rewarding challenge to try to interpret and echo some of the marvellous horticulture and design work that is displayed at Commonwealth War Graves Commission sites around the world.

“My aim is to capture some of the spirit of the Commission’s tireless work, as they tend the graves and memorials of the 1.7 million who laid their lives down in the first and second world wars.”

Contained in the CWGC garden are the same plants and flowers that will be adorning Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 23 May for the CWGC’s special centenary Service of Thanksgiving.