Le Quesnoy, France
In our winter issue, Xanthe White, our brand ambassador, spoke about the special garden she, together with designers Zoe Carafice and Charmaine Baillie, were commissioned to create in the town of Le Quesnoy in the North of France. This year it is 100 years since New Zealand soldiers liberated the town (with a little help from the Australians down road). The garden is one of twelve Gardens around Northern France that were created by designers from around the world in the name of peace. Below Xanthe continues her story about the completion of the garden and honouring our Kiwi soldiers.
A winter in France
Rangimarie - The story of the garden
On December the 3rd in Le Quesnoy France, our project to commemorate our soldiers who liberated this small community from years of occupation was opened by her Excellency the Right Honourable Governor General, Dame Patsy Reddy. It was a special moment. The walk to the garden is a long one. A steep path leading down into the outer areas that in ancient times were flooded, but now offer a beautiful park with winter streams and wildflowers in the summer months. Past an old firing range which is now used for pétanque and picnics. Many smaller paths lead to tunnels that run through the walls and many kilometres of tunnels that maze through, popping you out in unexpected places both in and out of the town itself. These all add to the magic of this place. It was a long couple of months that lead to this moment and the highs and lows of the journey only added to the emotions that were already very real as we commemorated 100 years since our last battle was fought in the days leading to Armistice.
As well as the garden reminding us all of what we can make of nothing from a garden, it also reminded us of what we can do when we all reach out to each other and offer a community of support. As we sought the funds to complete this project, we gathered not just enough money so that all the plants in the garden were a further gift from the people of New Zealand to the town, but we received stories from the families who had been part of the origins of our journey. These we gathered together to be placed in a time capsule that was buried in the garden before we planted the first plant. The time capsule was made by Justin Hurt out of Black Mairie and painted on the side with landscapes from home. The artist Marc Blake imagined these as being like a map of home that would remain in the place with our memories held within.
Completing the project meant we needed all the help we could get to plant the garden. We all spent weeks loading compost and mulch and digging out barrel loads of weeds alongside the guys who were building the garden and the town gardeners who helped us plant. On our return home, we received an email from one of our contractors who we had chatted with using singular words and Google translate. One of his thoughts (below) made me feel that I’m pleased that in New Zealand some of the things we prided ourselves on as New Zealanders on then, are still, I think, the same. When we do things, we are all in it together, dirt and all!
“In France, it is impossible to imagine designers putting their hands in the ground then drink a beer at the end of the day with us! Believe me, it's a pleasure for workers to break these hierarchical codes”
The town gardeners worked hard to alongside us learning our names for plants and how we like things to grow. No topiary in this garden!
There was one moment in the build just when my husband and I had arrived that was a real reminder of what had passed before us. As we walked towards the garden for the first time since it had begun, we stood above looking at the sweeping paths below taking form. The contractor called out to Zoe and Char who had been working alongside the build for the previous weeks. We came down and were handed what looked like an old rusted pipe clotted with dirt. But it wasn’t a pipe, it was a gun from WW1, English in origin, the same as that our soldiers had carried. We, of course, stopped work and let the mayor and appropriate people know and they took it to be restored. We will never know the guns full story but standing there beneath the walls we were bought closer to the loss of so many families and touched that it had revealed itself to us as they say, at such a moment as if to guide us to remember the reality of war as it becomes distant to those generations of us in New Zealand who have not had to know.
It made the purpose of the garden to remind us of what is required to keep peace so much more resonant.
The garden is very young and has rabbits and winter to fight against before its first season of growth will begin to reveal its full form. I’m going to have to return to it to watch its emergence, to continue our friendships for all the reasons above. There are so many more stories and lessons that this garden bought all of us who were involved in it, but I think most importantly to me we need to remember that peace is not to be taken for granted. That all relationships have moments of challenge that require hard work and discomfort but if we walk with them with love and with patience, we so often end up receiving more than we ever imagined. Just like a garden.