Irish WW1 Centenary Peace Garden. Péronne, France

In 2018, Peter Donegan was selected by a French Jury to represent Ireland to design and realise a garden in the moat of the 13th century Chateau de Peronne, known as The Historial de la Grande Guerre, in the Somme region of Northern France.

A series of Peace Gardens (Jardin de la Paix) in very historic locations there were to be created to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War 1. The gardens were to be designed and realised by 14 internationally selected garden designers.

The Irish WW1 Peace Garden of the Historial Péronne visited by President Emmanuel Macron Friday 9th November 2018 is now complete. An official Irish inauguration of the garden is set to follow in the coming weeks.

The following post is the story behind and about the garden. Before the build of the Irish garden began is better told in this article by Anthea McTiernan of The Irish Times.  

These are some of the photos of Péronne between the great war, 1914 – 1918.

The brief on this garden 30 foot below street level was a little different in every way and almost entirely dissimilar to the other Peace Gardens. It is better explained spoken (as versus text), and I feel that was best done in a video interview produced by Lee Connelly. It will give you a better insight into the thinking and why in some cases you see what you see, now.

In total I spent just over 8.5 weeks living in the Somme region of France and construction of the garden took 5 weeks.

To the build itself, it was tricky (of planning) because the first view of the garden is from above and not as one may be used to – walking into it (as we usually do) at eye level, maybe looking up. It also may be worth noting not just that no garden had ever existed here before but also that historically moats were designed solely to keep people out and then from a design perspective, there was the history that the town had witnessed.

What existed beforehand was just the path from the steps (left hand side of castle). As I watched, observed (and listened) the people would walk straight past to the café at the rear and I, wanted to get the people to want to walk into the right hand side, from the left, having walked down the steps and stay longer.

Of note, it was not permitted to open up the ramp access on the right (as you look at the castle) now planted, as it would require a safety hand rail, which would change the walls and the castles view from the street.

The realisation or construction in mind, no soil at all left the site; whilst every piece of stone and soil brought in came over the 9 metre walls and down – which meant that everything was placed (before delivery to the castle) into 1 tonne bags and then by crane/ hoist down into the garden, from the left hand side as you look at the castle only.

And because of the bridge in the middle and the height of the archway (to the far left, as you look at the castle) no large machinery could access in any way. It was not your usual build and for some maybe, a challenge.

The footage shown by TV station France3 shows the build best part way through phase 1.

The garden at Chateau de Peronne was the only garden of the series, due to the moat’s history, with permission to dig down; albeit only a certain depth. This was hugely important, so the garden itself would let people know from street view, that there now existed a garden below and the design therefore required that the new trees came over wall height. It is worth considering also that the walls of the moat (next to the street) and the castle building in its entirety are listed, which meant that the design could not change, edit or touch any of the walls and no planting could change this of the future in any way.

Both of these factors were considered in the initial design and later then in the garden build.

The Irish Peace Garden, by night (below) shows the garden quite differently. The moat walls have existing lights built in and these (repaired) meant it was possible to see shadows on the walls from the top of the street adjacent.

To some finer points.

Seating:

Left side, as you look at the castle:

The 12 metre long sandstone seating was designed so that one always faced each other and there is a difference in finish between the 2 lower courses and the upper to create the seating. It was badly finished (as best as possible) intentionally as none of the backdrop that is the 13th century castle base and the rebuilt construction above would have matched a perfectionately constructed and finished stone.

Right side:

The right is locally sourced Pine, planted in between with Cherry, Apple and Pear trees. The logic is that they will form a canopy over those who sit there and (secondary) to have fruit within. The seating measures approximately 14 linear metres (4 x 3) per rectangle and again, it is cut and planed incorrectly and as best as possible bolted correctly, to tie in with what exists behind

As to whether what was designed worked is something I could that I felt would require a lot more time and my smile almost came to tears when I saw this last image, sent to me by local man Bruno, the day after I left Péronne.

Irish references:

Ireland has inherited a landscape designed by nature and its elements that is without question stunningly beautiful and of constant daydreams. That our heritage is greater in agriculture is a fair suggestion and this was never to be an “Irish” themed garden, but more Irish designed.

The references to Irish are therefore to be sought – and there exists but 2 only.


– the 3 Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) though locally sourced are by botanical definition native Irish. Where I live in Dublin it is most usually grown as a hedge as it is in surrounding farming towns of Péronne. Here however it is within the garden as a tree, planted as it should be, in a cluster of three.
– the seating is loosely based on the shapes of the limestone on Dún Ducathair, Inis Mór. Coincidentally on that note, the base of the castle is 13th century limestone and that of the Aran Islands is 11 – 15th.

Planting:

The photographs above show the garden at November 9th 2018. It is a permanent garden and not a show garden or installation. Some planting (Rudbeckia, Astilbe, Penstemon for example) is of herbaceous mixed with some evergreens and grasses. There is also a mix through of herbs and planting for flowering only and Péronne is very much encouraged to come and pick them and use them.

That there are no roses or poppies (for example) is very much down to the brief – that the garden within the moat of Chateau de Peronne looks to the future; whilst within the castle The Historial de la Grande Guerre (The Museum of the Great War) looks to and remembers the past.

Of note: the climate in Péronne is almost identical to Dublin; And the similarities between nurseries planting lists, growth rates per annum and crops grown in the surrounding towns made the gardens design and plant selection quite simple.

Edging:

Hardwood timber edges are used around all of the planting and slightly raised. This was to allow a greater planting depth, to create a more defined line when viewed from above and a feel of walking through (as versus walking past) due to the slight lean inwards either side.

Sourcing:

From the timber, planting and stone; to the contractors, paint and cement – everything was sourced as locally as possible. My apartment was adjacent the Town Hall (Péronne) where I lived for almost all of my stays there (8 in total). And no chemicals at all were used in the realisation of the now officially named Jardin Eutychia – after the Greek Goddess of Happiness.

Further information:

Further info – Peter Donegan

Much Thanks:

  • The entire team at Art et Jardins, Hauts de France; Hervé Francois and his amazing staff at the Historial, Péronne. Stephen, Michelle and family for adopting me; Helen for the email; Niamh at the Irish in France Association; The people of Péronne who took the time to say hello and chat; London College of Garden Design for use of their facilities; Peter O’Connor and his team at the Irish Embassy Paris. Bruno for the photographs of the garden being used.