The Thiepval Memorial, designed by sir Edwin Lutyens and commemorating more than 70,000 names of the missing from the Battle of the Somme, was centre stage in 2016 during the Centenary commemorations for the Battle of the Somme.
The Memorial, a huge 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.
It is one of 53 cemeteries maintained by the team comprising 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 Thiepval 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 Cententary began several years ago with work to the cemetery and memorial grounds to ensure they would comfortably cope with the expected increase in the volume of 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 we sought advice from STRI and with the specialist guidance of Steve Gingell a full program of turf improvement was put into action including spiking, sanding, and fertilizer applications.
Our monitoring ultimately showed a 50% increase in visitor numbers from 2015 to 2016, peaking at just under 23,000 visitors in the busiest month in July 2016.
The transformation of the western two-acre apron of the ground from high scrub to an annual wildflower meadow was key to the preparations for the Centenary even, opening up the view from the memorial and particularly the lower part of the cemetery to the former battlefield of the Somme.
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 which was attended by 10,000 guests, and featured in live BBC coverage of the ceremony attended by the Duke of Kent, President of the CWGC, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and the President of the French Republic Francois Hollande.