The Lost Gardeners of WWII

© Crown copyright
© Crown copyright

On one September day in 1940, high above the rooftops of the City of London, two huge surprise air raids were launched that would determine the country’s fate. This week marks 75 years since Britain experienced its greatest aerial conflict over its capital, never before and never since repeated.

The Battle of Britain raged above city, fields, farms and pastures, determining the country’s future and Nazi rule. Huge formations of German bomber planes encroached across British airspace as the Luftwaffe tried to gain superiority over the British RAF. The fate of the nation depended on the men of the Royal Air Force, Germany’s failure was pivotal and prevented them from claiming Britain. Days earlier, Germany had switched tactics and decided to target civilians in surprise attacks, but on this great day the Luftwaffe took a massive hit, daylight bombing was abandoned and Britain was thereafter only sporadically night bombed for the remaining period of the war. 15th September 1940 is seen as a clear and definite defeat by Britain over Nazi Germany in WWII and named Battle of Britain Day.

During both WWI and WWII, people turned to gardening for a morale boost and to grow and preserve their own resources along with composting and recycling. Labour and transport were at a shortage, food was rationed and getting food to civilians was difficult, so people were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens. Air raid shelters were popping up in back gardens as green spaces became multi-functional, bombed out buildings were turned into plots for growing as a patchwork of gardens and allotments sprang to life and by 1943, there were 1,675000 allotments and 5 million private gardens throughout Britain.  People believed that if they ate better, more healthily and were happier and with a bit of physical work and know-how growing your own and coping with war would become easier. The people of Britain tackled the situation with unwavering enthusiasm, community spirit and fortitude. It was also the people of Briton’s way of proving to Nazi Germany that their country and land was worth fighting for.

“Gardening in wartime Britain was a fight for freedom”

 says Ursula Buchan (A Green and Pleasant Land: How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War, 2013)

Gardens such as RHS Garden, Wisley and Kew Gardens were immensely important during the war. Many of their gardeners and those who looked after them were called up, but the gardens remained open and functional throughout by employing women to replace the men on active service. Kew alone lost the lives of 14 members of staff during the war. The effort to boost morale and food production was also seen as an opportunity to educate. Wisley being one of the finest gardens in the world and Kew not only housing a major plant collection, also carried out important research such as the use of nettle fibre in a material for reinforcing aircraft covering, the site was also used for British bomb experiments.

British gardens and those who tended to them played an important role both in WWI and WWII in conservation efforts on the home front.

It is at this time of year that we take time to remember those who dedicated their lives for their country in the wars. Here are some plants from our catalogue that we would like to dedicate this week in memory of the lost gardeners of WWII and all those who made the un-faltering effort with their green spaces to show that British soil was indeed worth fighting for.



Achillia millefolium ‘The Beacon’ – Soft red flowers, fading to orange over grey-green foliage. Best in borders or containers. Flowers throughout summer and autumn.




Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ – A hardy, year round ornamental grass with clumps of slender leaves that have white borders and arching tips, giving an overall shimmering effect. Bronze flowers emerge in summer through to September. Can be planted into containers, baskets, raised beds, border or rockery.





Schizostylis coccinea ‘Fenland Daybreak’ – A beautiful variety with coral pink star-shaped flowers in summer and autumn on tall green foliage.Perfect for the border, raised bed or large container to create some height as well as adding form and texture to the garden situation.




Tiarella ‘Iron Butterfly’ (P) – We are confident enough to say that this is the best Tiarella in the world to date with large, fragrant flowers over contrasting, well-cut, bronzed foliage.Traditionally a border plant, but we would recommend this plant for the container. Put it with other Tiarellas, Heucheras or even summer foliage and flowering plants.




Another one of our plants reminds us of one of the greatest German aces of WWI. Recognised for putting up quite a fight and his large amount of victories he flew a Red Fekker Dr. I. triplane giving him the title of The Red Baron.  Rittmeister Baron Manfred Von Richthofen was killed in aerial combat on 21st April 1918. The British Royal Air Force held a grand funeral for their late adversary after he was laid in state, Six of No. 3 squadron’s officers served as pallbearers, and a guard of honour from the squadron’s other ranks fired a salute.Allied squadrons stationed nearby presented memorial wreaths, one of which was inscribed with the words, “To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe” and photos of the funeral were dropped by British planes over his aerodrome in Cappy with the message “To German Flying Corps : Rittmeister Baron Manfred Von Richthofen was killed in aerial combat on April 12th 1918. He was buried with full military honours. From the British Royal Air Force”



iperb_160915Here is our Red Baron. Another hardy stalwart that will withstand the toughest of conditions:

Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ –

syn. I. cyl. ‘Rubra’; comm. Japanese Blood Grass

A stunning, grass with lime green leaves that turn progressively through burgundy to claret-blood red in late summer/autumn. Unique and breathtakingly beautiful. A hardy, up-right grass covering all seasons and withstanding the cold especially if protected from harsh frosts. Excellent in pots, containers and bowls as well as in the border and raised beds. Great as a centre piece or to complement other plants.


All of these plants can be found in our new 2016 Catalogue and some are currently on the Surplus list.

Our Instaplant team have this year produced a Remembrance Poppy in support of Help for Heroes. It will be appearing at the Gro South Show on 11/11/15. Watch this space for our exciting future report on its build and production.



Images and sources used with thanks

Fig 1 : Image shows a Spitfire taking to the skies during a display at RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) 2014, one of the biggest Air shows in the World. © Crown copyright, Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

Ursula Buchan – A Green and Pleasant Land: How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War (2013)

Ace Pilots –

Manfred Richthofen – The Red Air Fighter (1999)