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Diarmuid Gavin: Planting peace


Diarmuid Gavin's design for a 1916 garden of remembrance

Diarmuid Gavin's design for a 1916 garden of remembrance

Oakfield Park, Raphoe, Co. Donegal

Oakfield Park, Raphoe, Co. Donegal


Diarmuid Gavin's design for a 1916 garden of remembrance

Over the past few months, I've been included in a conversation about the potential of marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising by creating Gardens of Remembrance in villages, towns and cities throughout the State.

It's an ambitious initiative centring on the abilities of individuals, groups and organisations to come together to mark this significant occasion with an enduring living memorial.

The idea was developed by Senator Mark Daly, a member of the Government's All Party Consultation Group on Commemorations, under the auspices of a new body, Glór na Cásca. This body is made up of politicians, representatives of trade unions, members of cultural and Irish language organisations, and descendants of the men and women who were involved in the Easter Rising. The initiative has been endorsed by Heather Humphries, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

When I was approached to help plan the scheme I was captivated by the notion of multiple gardens of remembrance dotted across the country - places of beauty and tranquillity, of optimism and peace.

It's an inclusive project with an open invitation allowing everyone to be involved. I saw this as an opportunity to enhance our nation's green reputation and for every community to be involved in commemorating our nation's history.

The project involves local communities working together - and in conjunction with their local authorities, community groups and Tidy Towns committees - to identify appropriate sites within parishes, villages, towns and cities in which to create the gardens.

We will put forward a series of original templates which the communities can copy wholesale or adapt by working with gardeners or designers to suit their particular plot. The community will need to work together to fundraise or bring on board local garden centres and nurseries to provide the materials. Each plot will of course be different and dependent on local conditions and availability of land. The sole conditions which make gardens eligible for inclusion in the scheme is that they contain a flag pole for the Tricolour, a stone carved with the 1916 Proclamation and seven trees to represent the seven signatories. No other memorials or dedication devices are encouraged.

Any community can participate - there are no limits to the amount of gardens a city or county could create. The Government has allocated money to each local authority to be used for 1916 commemorations and many counties are considering making grants available for the Gardens of Remembrance.

The Irish overseas are also encouraged to get involved in the Gardens of Remembrance initiative and it is hoped that the global Irish community will have Gardens in place for the 100th anniversary celebrations. In the US, for example, Congressman Brendan Boyle is working to ensure that Gardens of Remembrance are dedicated across the country in 2016.

There's a lot to consider when creating a public garden and there may be reasons why you may or may not feel an initiative like this is feasible in your locality. Land ownership, permissions, insurance, fear of vandalism, costs, timescale, and abilities to create and succeed, and ongoing maintenance of the gardens are all topics which need to be explored.

Those interested in participating are invited to gather at a 1916 Centenary Commemorative Gardens Workshop in the lecture halls of the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin on Saturday May 2 at 10am. A series of presentations will be made exploring which designs are appropriate and giving practical advice on how to set up a local group.

I'm delighted to present a series of the garden template designs for the project, one of which you can see here. They are all simple and contemporary in style, containing a sense of enclosure and packed with plants. Above, you can read my selections for the seven trees, which you can also use in your own garden.

Tree selection

The primary unifying feature between all of the Gardens of Remembrance will be seven trees, each planted in memory of a signatory of the proclamation. These are my picks, which are all also excellent trees for use in any garden.

1 Crataegus laevigata 'Paul's Scarlet'

This attractive Hawthorn will reach a height of between 3m and 6m and produces double, pink-red flowers in May. Leaves are small, and dark green before they change to red in the autumn. The small red fruit appear in the autumn. Crataegus laevigata 'Paul's Scarlet' is a small- to medium-sized tree and a good option for exposed or coastal areas, tolerating some salty winds.

2 Mount Etna Broom, Genista aetnensis

Genistas are generally grown as shrubs, however, when allowed the space to develop fully, the Mount Etna Broom will eventually make a small handsome tree. It comes from the dry sunny hillsides around Mount Etna and in Sardinia, and flowers best in the stony poor soils that most resemble its native habitat. When young, the shrubs can be trimmed lightly after flowering to keep them bushy, but as plants mature they should be left to grow naturally.

3 Weeping chrysanthemum cherry, Prunus 'Kiku-shidare-zakura'

A real exotic-looking beauty, this tree (right) has 3cm deep pink, double flowers and are arranged in dense clusters along arching branches. The trees are usually trained to 2-4m, but are often grafted for extra height.

4 Dwarf Eastern Catalpa, Catalpa bignonioides 'Nana'

This species is an architectural delight, containing a dense cover of glorious large green leaves in a spherical form on a straight stem. It looks like a bay on acid, and a group standing together can make quite a sight. Good for sheltered spots such as enclosed courtyards, expect growth of up to 5m.

5 Himalayan birch, Betula utilis 'Moonbeam'

Moonbeam is a compact, rounded, deciduous tree famed for its wonderful peeling white bark and oval glossy dark green leaves which turn a lovely golden shade in autumn

6 Weeping Crab Apple, Malus 'Red Jade'

This beautiful tree is ideal for year-round interest. The pendulous frame of this ornamental tree is covered in a profusion of white flowers, often with rosy tints, opening from pink buds in April-May. The mid-green foliage turns a tanned yellow in autumn and small, round crab apples appear, mostly red in colour with some yellow flushing. This weeping tree will grow to just 3 x 3 metres in 20 years and is suited to all soil types, growing particularly well in moist, well-drained conditions. It makes a splendid small garden tree, providing wildlife interest and can also be container grown.

7 Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos

This is a fast growing, deciduous tree. It has an open habit, casting only a light shade underneath its canopy. Tolerance of pollution makes it an ideal tree for urban planting. Thornless varieties, such as Sunburst and Inermis, are available though they will produce few, if any, seed pods. In the past, the pulp for the seed pods has been used to brew beer and the thorns used for nails. There is a small market for Honey Locust furniture as it is a high quality wood which polishes well.

Irish Independent