Remembrance and Hope at Kew Gardens with Gaze Burvill

The Battle of Verdun was one of the costliest battles in human history, with 714,000 casualties over the span of 303 days. In January 1919, two tiny acorns, picked up from the battlefields of Verdun in 1917, were planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and grew into a ‘living memorial’ to those who lost their lives not only in the Battle of Verdun but also the Great War.

One of these ‘Verdun Oaks’ was planted in a prominent position beside the Chinese Lions and lake, near to the war memorial plaques situated in the Temple of Arethusa and Victoria Gate. For 94 years it grew to great stature – and great girth, thanks to its sunny position in the garden, with no other trees to compete with for light – and became a magnificent oak tree. But just six years short of its 100th birthday, it was severely damaged by ‘St Jude’s Storm’ on 23rd October, 2013, and in 2014, one hundred years after the start of World War I, it had to be felled.

In 2014, Tony Kirkham, Head of the Arboretum at Kew contacted Simon Burvill of Gaze Burvill. Tony had a plan to commemorate not only this magnificent tree, but to make a mark of remembrance for all the staff from Kew who lost their lives in both devastating World Wars. Tony wanted to make a special seat to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War on 11th November 2018, and Simon was honoured to take up the challenge.

Gaze Burvill have 24 years experience in designing and making oak outdoor seating, with craftsman-made seats gracing the finest private and public gardens in the land, including, they are very proud to say, The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Oak may be the craftsman’s favourite wood, and a good choice for an outdoor seat, being naturally impermeable and durable, but the tree, especially one damaged by a storm, must be treated with special care.

On 8th November 2018, Simon Burvill unveiled the Remembrance and Hope seat at a special ceremony at Kew Gardens; four years in the making, the sculptural design not only evokes elements drawn from the Great War but also the uplifting and healing virtues of nature.

The new bench is situated near the Palm House Pond on the corner of the panel lawn, just opposite the Temple of Arethusa, where Kew’s war memorial plaque can be found. As its name suggests, the towering commemorative seat comes in two parts – Remembrance and Hope. The Remembrance part has an enveloping, contemplative form, and looks towards the Temple of Arethusa. Its Corten frame has a looped design motif, partially in scorched oak, reminiscent of the First World War battle zones’ barbed wire. The other side of the seat faces the Palm House, and, with its open, convex form, is outward looking and hopeful. It features cut organic branch forms from the fallen Verdun oak, to represent the irrepressible regenerative power of nature.

The Verdun oak has been re-propagated by Tony Kirkham and his team of garden scientists, and the sapling replanted in the spot where the original oak stood.

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