In an encounter with Siegfried Sassoon in Parliament in 1918, Winston Churchill claimed 'War is the normal occupation of man'. When challenged, he added: 'War – and gardening'.
The relationship between these two seemingly incompatible occupations is explored in this exhibition which also looks at how planting and garden-making introduced beauty and normality in the most extreme places - at the front and in the trenches of both armies, and in internment and prisoner of war camps.
The exhibition will also look at the importance of flowers as symbols of home and remembrance.
It is no surprise that the army organised the growing of vegetables at the Front – the exhibition features a medal awarded for the best grown on the Western Front. What is less well known is that soldiers also grew flowers, and the exhibition features rare photographs of flower gardens established at the Front. Wild flowers were also collected and treasured – on display will be an extraordinary collection of pressed flowers collected by 'an incurable romantic soldier' and sent home from the Balkans.
A collaboration with the RHS will tell the story of the British interned at Ruhleben in Germany, where three quarters of the interned soldiers joined the horticultural society. One of the most unusual items on display is a set of intricately carved gnomes, carved by an Austrian prisoner interned on the Isle of Man in 1917.
Flowers were as important as a symbol of remembrance at home as they were on the front. Floral shrines were created in thousands of households in the absence of the bodies of their loved ones.
In 1918, 100,000 people laid flowers at the memorial shrine in Hyde Park. Intended as a temporary structure, the memorial was kept in place for well over a year and led to the establishment of the Cenotaph.