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Chelsea Flower Show: Actors read war poets in First World War tributes

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 19, 2014

Stephen Fry reads read The Soldier by Brooke on the No Man's Land garden created fro ABF The Soldier's Charity

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Actors Rowan Atkinson and Nigel Havers read poems by First World War poets who died during the conflict, on the No Man's Land ABF The Soldiers' Charity garden to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Havers read A Soldier’s Cemetery by John William Streets, and Atkinson read Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen and later The Dead by Rupert Brooke.

The garden represents a landscape marked by the fighting in northern France, including trenches, a mine crater pond and the yew trees found in war cemeteries.

Actor Stephen Fry, who starred in First World War-set Blackadder Goes Forth with Atkinson, read The Soldier by Brooke on the No Man's Land garden.

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Before reading “one of the best known war poems”, Fry paid tribute to Brooke as a man of “extraordinary talent”.

“He was so beautiful and extraordinary almost everyone who met him fell in love with him,” he said.

“Sadly his life was not long, he died very quickly and somewhat bathetically of septicaemia, but he didn’t die before he’d written this remarkable poem.”

Joey, the life-sized puppet from the hit stage show War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo also put in an appearance at the garden.

Actress Caroline Quentin read At Daybreak by Siegfried Sassoon.

Designer Charlotte Rowe said she was inspired by her own family’s involvement in the First World War, including her grandfather, a second lieutenant with the Middlesex Regiment.

She said: “The idea behind it is that the land, No Man’s Land, was fought over again and again with the front line moving very little, and the land got completely messed up and churned up.

“The concept is the healing of the land after severe conflict, and relating it to the human body and spirit.”

Plants used in the garden have been grown by injured soldiers at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court as part of horticultural therapy.

After his reading Havers said: “It’s a beautiful, restful, peaceful garden.”

He added: “It’s the right time to do this because it’s the anniversary of the First World War.”

The war in Afghanistan inspired first-time Chelsea designer Matthew Keightley to design the Hope on the Horizon garden for Help For Heroes,which charts the path to recovery for wounded personnel.

Mr Keightley’s brother Michael serves with the RAF Regiment and is on his fifth tour of Afghanistan. On his last tour, he formed part of a medical evacuation crew, which led the designer to explore the recovery process.

Mr Keightley said the experience of creating his first garden at Chelsea had been “unreal, unbelievable”.

“It’s the first time since being involved in team sport I’ve felt that feeling of camaraderie, not just with my own blokes but the greater community.

“The experienced designers have been willing to help.”

And while the garden was as good as he could have got it for the Chelsea Flower Show judges, he said the most important thing was delivering a garden for Help For Heroes, whose ambassadors are also at Chelsea today.

“That’s what it was always about, it’s making sure we did the right thing for the blokes and they seem to think we have.”

The garden will be used to help service personnel at one of Help For Heroes recovery centres after Chelsea ends.

The scorching weekend had not been a problem for the garden, he said, as it had been designed for sunny weather – but he would be getting in to water it as soon as the judges had been round.

Another stand which has beaten the vagaries of the British weather is the National Farmers’ Union and Waitrose stand in Chelsea’s grand pavilion, a collection of colour-themed displays of British flower and food produce.

The display includes willow grown by a producer hit by the winter floods in Somerset, but the good spring has meant much of the produce was advanced.

NFU horticultural adviser Chris Hartfield said dealing with the weather was an occupational hazard for farmers and producers.

“The challenge comes if your produce is two weeks late or early, that’s when we have a problem in the UK with the big retailers who are not responsive enough to switch what’s on their shelves to British produce when it becomes available.”

He urged retailers to show more flexibility to support British growers.

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