The Magna Carta Garden

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No freeman is to be disseised of his tenement nor will we go against such a man or send against him save by lawful judgement of his peers…While there was no specific provision in the Magna Carta for the rights of gardens, it so happens that its peers judged the Magna Carta Anniversary Garden suitably evocative of 800 years of liberty to award it Bronze in its category at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Since winning, this little slice of land has been ‘disseised’ after all and moved to what will become a permanent fixture at the Runnymede-on-Thames Hotel which, we needn’t remind you, is where the Magna Carta was sealed eight centuries before. Well, not technically at the hotel, but on the Runnymede meadow nearby.

In a small ceremony – likely dwarfed by the pomp and pageantry expected when the Magna Carta anniversary is commemorated – marked by television garden guru, Charlie Dimmock, along with the town’s mayor, the garden’s designers, a pair of minstrels and photographer or two, this permanent commemoration was unveiled one unseasonably chilly June afternoon. It was, I would like to think, not unlike the gathering that occurred those 800 years and some 800 yards away. Without the photographers.

Charlie Dimmock Runnymede Magna Carta Garden

The ‘Magna Carta Garden’, designed by passionate plantswomen Patricia Thirion and Janet Honour, is a rich tapestry of flora and ornamentation and, fittingly, very much evocative of the period and symbolic to the events surrounding that historic day. Twelve hand-embroidered heraldic banners, denoting King John and the barons, frame the garden which also features a medieval chess set (its pieces artfully re-arranged by my 16-month old daughter) as a metaphor for the power struggle between King and subjects, a box of artefacts representing the parchment for the charter itself, and, central to the display, a cast limestone Gothic fountain, for that distinctive touch of the medieval.

The plants, too, and the garden’s symmetry, are very much dedicated to the period; two goblet-shaped Egremont Russet apple trees stand astride a willow arbour, heath pea and honeysuckle climb hand-made wattle fences, also colourfully dressed by a variety of roses, including the ‘Magna Charta’, and two floral beds are bursting with ornamentals and herbs, including marigolds, borage, ox-eye daisies and forget-me-nots. And, at the front, in a bed of wild flowers commonly found on the meadow at Runnymede, the dedication is marked with a slice of yew – inscribed, simply, ‘Law, Liberty, Legacy’ – taken from a descendant of the Ankerwycke Yew, close to the site where the charter was sealed.

Magna Carta Garden illustration

A permanent home it may be and, much like the 1215 charter itself, the garden may wither and change as the seasons pass but it’s touching to know that there is something of the spirit of the Magna Cart a short hop and a hey-nonny-nonny from that hallowed ground. May we all commemorate the origins of our liberties and the rule of law in our own little way.

The Magna Carta anniversary celebrations take place at Runnymede on the 14th and 15th June 2015; including a river pageant and the official commemoration ceremony. For more information, including a timetable of events and tourist information, visit www.magnacarta800th.com.

The Runnymede-on-Thames Hotel is also embracing the occasion and offering a range of events and offers to mark the anniversary, from a ‘Little Barons Break’, a family weekend with a historic twist, including an adventure trail to the Runnymede meadows, and a Medieval Afternoon Tea. For more information, visit www.therunnymede.co.uk.

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