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COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION

Border Planting and Design The Origins The Gardens created by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission owe much of today’s design concepts to the gardens of Edwardian England. From the very beginning, annuals and then perennials were used in the headstone borders where the concept was to create a sentimental association between those gardens at home and the foreign fields where the soldiers lay. The prominent architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, designed or supervised the design of many of the First World War cemeteries and in doing so sought the advice of his horticultural mentor, Gertrude Jekyll, on the choice of suitable plants. She was to send, from her nursery in Surrey, thousands of white thrift (Armeria) which were used in the first planted borders. Sadly, it is uncertain exactly how the present planting concepts developed but from the early 1920s annuals and perennials planted in front of the headstones created the effect of tranquillity that pervades the cemeteries today. Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery, Italy Early spring is represented in this beautiful cemetery, situated along the Adriatic coast, by clumps of white candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), bright yellow and maroon Primula ‘Polyanthus’, light pink pincushions of tufty mounds of thrift (Armeria maritima) and the ground hugging felty leaves of Stachys byzantina. Scarlet tulips provide a little height in the borders. The deep pink of the Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum) contrasts dramatically with the verdant green of the lush spring turf.

Design of Front Borders Plants are not thrown together haphazardly but planted to achieve a specific purpose. Although many of the cemeteries are laid out symmetrically, as one views from the entrance, many are not. Some headstones are almost touching each other (Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension) and others are much farther apart (Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery). Thus, the planting schemes must be flexible and allow for these differences. Generally, all borders are set in turf. There are exceptions as at Rhodes War Cemetery, Greece where the proximity of the cemetery to the sea and neighbouring antiquities, provided the opportunity to use pebbles rather than turf, reducing the need for water.

Aubigny Communal Cemetery, France The closely spaced headstones limit the choice of roses but the patio rose, Anna Ford, growing not much taller than 60cm, provides a warming colour in early summer. Intermittent patches of yellow are provided by the double, clear yellow flowers of Helianthemum ‘Jubilee’. Campanula portenschlagiana (syn. muralis) with its violet, bell-shaped flowers, blooms for many weeks sprawling over the ground. It is complemented by the violet-purple spikes of Veronica spicata.

Border planting and design  

Border planting and design

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