You may recall I popped across to Belgium with my Mum and her cousin so they could visit their uncle’s grave (and my great uncle!) on the 100th anniversary of his death. One of the highlights were the Memorial Gardens in Zonnebeke.
Located in the centre of Ypres Salient, Zonnebeke was destroyed by the Great War. It was not until the 1920s that people even began to return and this small town was completely rebuilt. There is a museum here which tells the story of Passchedaele and for this year one of the many dugouts has been drained and reopened to enable visitors to experience what life was like for the tunnellers of World War One. It was the dug out which brought us to Zonnebeke, and we all found it an interesting experience. However it was the Memorial Park, an unexpected discovery, which had the emotional impact.
The seven small gardens are in the shape of a poppy, with the seed head in the middle and the boundary marked by red posts to reflect the battlefields. Each garden has been created by a different nation using the plants, poetry and modern art associated with their country. A few of the gardens were still being created at the time of our visit, as a decision was taken to stagger the openings. However even the three not quite finished still managed to reflect their countries character as well as the loss they experienced during World War One.
Unlike the garden I am going to start with. This was one of the last gardens we visited but I am going to start with it here. This garden shocked Mum and I, and upset my American cousin. I thought it best to begin with it so that I can then follow with the gardens which delighted us. Although this nation lost over 2000 men they have chosen to remember something quite different. The board indicates that the garden remembers the huge humanitarian effort that took place during and after World War one. However for the three of us it simply felt like the United States of America was shouting very loudly about how marvellous they were and how they saved Europe. It felt so out of place, as you may agree when you discover the approach taken by the remaining nations.
One of the most moving gardens for me was that which has been created by Germany, as it wasn’t until we entered this garden that I learnt Germany has no idea how many men died at the Battle of Passchendaele. The old German roses in one of the ‘poppy petals’ symbolise the bloodshed of war as well as a poignant WW1 poem – Die Rosen im Garten – written by Ernst Stadler. Ernst died the same year he wrote the poem.
Leaving Germany behind we found ourselves in an English garden, again full of poetry and symbolism. You enter across the words of Welsh Poet Hedd Wyn who died the same day as my uncle – 31st July 1917. Even before we read the board the three of us felt this was a place for contemplation and peace.
The next garden, that of New Zealand, is part way through its creation. The modern art is in situ but the planting of New Zealand’s native flora has yet to be undertaken. Once finished I think this will be an incredibly emotional space. Whilst the garden commemorates as a whole the 5,000 New Zealanders who died fighting in Flanders, the art remembers the ‘darkest day’. Each bronze disc in the floor represents one of the 846 men who were killed on 12th October 1917 close by to where the gardens are today; by the end of 12th October 1917 there were 2,700 wounded, dead or missing. They are all remembered by a bullet size hole for each one of them in the column.
We stayed in the southern hemisphere as we made our way next to Australia. They like New Zealand suffered huge losses in World War One and they have also reflected in the landscaping of their garden. Each glass bowl symbolises the water-filled craters which covered Belgium’s devastated landscape and the copper pellets in the glass remember the lives of those consumed in the ‘furnace of war’. The planting reflects the many environments of Australia, and the contrast between the art and the garden helped remind us of the destruction of war.
From Australia I am going to take you quickly back past the American garden and onto a garden which when we visited was little more than outline as it was in the early stages of creation. Consequently I took only one photograph of it. The photograph is of some words I glimpsed in one of the petals. This will be the Canadian garden, a country which suffered heavily in World War One. It looked like there was going to be lots of planting, so look forward to returning here one day.
The final garden is also not yet completed. It belongs to Belgium. Again like Canada there was no board when we visited and so we could not discern the plan for its layout. However Belgium had for the summer filled it with sunflowers which made it lovely to visit and also makes it a lovely place in which to finish my post.
PS Apologies Debbie for many words but I couldn’t keep the content to six! I did ponder not making it a 6WS but my title is six and so hoping you will forgive me. I just thought Six Word Saturday would be a lovely way to share these gardens with a wider audience.