Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best heritage park

Winner - Thiepval Team, Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Thiepval Memorial, designed by sir Edwin Lutyens to honour more than 70,000 names of the missing from the Battle of the Somme, was centre stage in 2016 during commemorations marking the centenary of the battle.

The memorial, a monumental brick and Portland stone arch visible from all over the region, was constructed and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), with day-to-day maintenance the responsibility of the Thiepval team.

One of 53 cemeteries maintained by the team, it comprises 15 miles of herbaceous planted headstone borders, 43 acres of fine turf, more than 15,000 roses and 38 miles of razor sharp turf edges.

The memorial is the focus of the battlefields in France and for the -Thiepval CWGC team, led by senior head gardener Robert Thomson, preparations for the centenary began several years ago with work to ensure the cemetery and memorial grounds would cope with the expected increase in visitors.

In an average year the impact of footfall on the turf is frequently intense, and pinch points and "desire lines" have to be carefully managed. Knowing that the footfall would be yet more intense, the team sought advice and a full programme of turf improvement was put into action including spiking, sanding and fertiliser applications.

Monitoring ultimately showed a 50% increase in visitor numbers from 2015 to 2016, peaking at just under 23,000 in the busiest month — July 2016.

The transformation of the western two-acre apron of the ground from high scrub to an annual wild flower meadow was key to the preparations for the centenary event, opening up the view from the memorial and particularly the lower part of the cemetery to the Somme battlefield.

The prairie — dominated by corn marigolds, Glebionis segetum and punctuated with remembrance poppies and French symbol of remembrance the cornflower, Centaurea cyanus — turned out to be a magnificent photogenic backdrop for the centenary event, attended by some 10,000 guests

The BBC carried live coverage of the ceremony, attended by CWGC president HRH the Duke of Kent, HRH the Prince of Wales, HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, HRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and French president Francois Hollande.


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