The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is one of the largest single gardening organisations on Earth.
Employing a global gardening workforce of more than 850 people, they care for over 700 hectares of land with such care and diligence that they have an unmatched reputation for standards of excellence across the world.
700 hectares is almost 1000 football pitches.
Some of the gardeners working on these sites are the third generation of their family to be employed the commission, and some of the oldest of them have spent 40-45 years, or their entire adult life, tending the plants at these memorials.
The Commission is thoroughly devoted to the craft of horticulture, and they employ a century of garden expertise to maintain the beauty and dignity of over 23,000 cemetery and memorial sites worldwide. So the bar is high for this garden, which has to represent that horticultural excellence to the world at the most prestigious of flower shows – RHS Chelsea.
The Commission tends to use a ‘Cottage Garden’ style at most of their sites, however the CWGC horticulturalists go to tremendous lengths to ensure that the right plants for the right cemetery are carefully selected, managed and nurtured.
This might mean bringing seeds from Nepal to use in the Gurkha cemeteries, or maples from Canada for Dieppe.
When Sir Frederic Kenyon laid out his vision for the war graves sites, he said,
“There is no reason why cemeteries should be places of gloom.”
The CWGC has pursued this ethos ever since, creating beautiful gardens, full of colour and life, that are not designed only to be pretty – they are symbolic of the life and joy and peace that we all enjoy because of the fallen.
A 702-page horticultural manual keeps gardeners on their toes, listing all roses approved for headstone borders.
The horticultural department has always played a powerful role in the look and feel of the cemeteries.
They emphasise a variety in texture, height and timing of floral display, and the results are incredible.
Each headstone border is planted with a mixture of floribunda roses and herbaceous perennials, and low-growing plants are chosen for areas immediately in front of headstones, ensuring that inscriptions are not obscured and preventing soil from splashing back during rain.
For the Centenary Garden, I wanted to capture some of the great history and the ideal behind the Commission’s horticultural mission. I wanted to create a garden that, though it serves as a place for remembrance and reflection upon something so tragic, was not a place of gloom or sadness, but rather one of peace, joy, and gratitude for what that tragedy has given to us all.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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