Battlefields to Butterflies

Feature garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show, July 2018

This garden, which marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, and commemorates the gardeners of the Royal Parks and Palaces who lost their lives in the conflict, was inspired by William Orpen’s impression of the Somme battlefield in the summer-time of 1917. The artist describes how he had ‘left it mud, nothing but water, shell-holes and mud – the most gloomy, dreary abomination of desolation the mind could imagine; and now in the summer of 1917, no words could express the beauty of it. The dreary, dismal mud was baked white and pure – dazzling white. White daisies, red poppies and a blue flower, great masses of them, stretched for miles and miles. The sky a pure dark blue, and the whole air, up to a height of about forty feet, thick with white butterflies’.

Our garden is inscribed with a deep trench which snakes through a desolate landscape littered with craters, blasted trees, barbed wire and the detritus of war. As the trench winds its way south it rises gently to form a path which emerges into a landscape that evokes what Orpen described as ‘an enchanted land’, filled with wildflowers and ringing with the buzz of insects. The garden terminates in a stone plaque commemorating the fallen royal gardeners. The passage through the landscape is intended to evoke the regenerative quality of nature – a journey from ruin to remembrance.

The garden is a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Parks Guild. Relics displayed in the garden were recovered from the battlefields around Ypres, very generously lent by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The garden was animated throughout the Show by members of the 10th Battalion Essex Regiment and a host of Pensioners from the Royal Hospital Chelsea.