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Gardening with Hannah Genders

A natural memorial

Posted on April 21 2008 at 11:06:30 0 comments

Memorial stones

Hannah Genders surveys a site where she has been asked to help to create a very special garden.

I was approached last month by a small, local charity with a very special request. The charity is called Edward’s Trust and it does an amazing job of caring for children and adults who have to cope with childhood illness and loss.

The charity was set up in 1989 by a family who had lost their young son, Edward, and wanted to support other families struggling with these circumstances.

Edward’s Trust has been quietly caring for these families over the last few years and now has the opportunity to provide a permanent memorial for all those they are involved with, in the form of a garden.

The charity has received a donation of a plot of land at the New Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to create this garden, and I have the privilege of working with them to make this happen.

It is certainly a challenge because as well as including the names of all the children whose families the Trust has worked with in the past, the charity is also keen to include the names of children and adults they will be involved with in the future.

The garden will become a focal point for any families and friends to visit.

With this challenging and creative project in my head I paid a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum earlier this week. I had already heard, from other people who had visited, what an interesting and moving place it was.

The new arboretum features 150 acres of trees and memorials solely devoted to the concept of remembrance.

The new Armed Forces memorial towers over the site, with its massive curved walls, central obelisk and impressive statues – this contains the names of people who have died in conflict since 1945.

At the other end of the scale, walking around the site of about 130 different gardens and displays, you come across small plaques that mean something special to someone.

One notable garden is called Sands and it is dedicated to all parents who have lost a child through stillbirth. You enter the garden through a small gateway on to a curved path lined with painted stones, each with the name of a child on, put there by a parent or family member.

It was very moving and a lovely way to grieve and remember a child.

The main building is connected to a stunning chapel via a long, covered walkway, and the courtyard space adjoining also has gardens devoted to loss, including a rose garden for war widows.

The chapel itself is a modern building in oak and glass with 12 Douglas firs holding up the roof – these represent the twelve apostles and each one has a face carved on it.

Some of them are really quite humorous and the artefacts and sculptures all over the chapel are full of meaning and symbolism.

I had the opportunity to be shown around this section of the site by one of the many volunteers there, and I would recommend this as a way of fully understanding the significance of the place.

The 50,000 trees on the site have been carefully selected for their beauty and meaning. They are still very young at the moment and the arboretum will change dramatically over the years as they mature.

Many of the trees are also symbolic, such as the avenue of young chestnuts called The Beat, funded by every police force in the UK. Chestnuts were chosen because the first truncheons were made from chestnut wood.

I also took the time to look at the plot designated for the Edward’s Trust Garden – we have a space 10m by 10m overlooking the Tame, and at the moment it has mainly ash and oak trees planted on it.

From my thoughts so far, the design needs to be a fitting tribute to Edward and other children like him. I want it to be space that visitors, especially those grieving the loss of a child, can interact with and experience hope and beauty.

The National Memorial Arboretum is open every day from 9am to 5pm – the site is well signposted just off the A38 north of Lichfield.

Tel: 01283 792333

For more information on Edward’s Trust visit

I will let you know how the design project progresses over the next few months.

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