‘They were our heroes’: Fabric artists pay tribute to army dads with Chelsea Flower Show poppy field

Crocheted poppies in their hundreds of thousands will adorn the entrance of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show in a moving installation similar to the Tower of London’s ‘sea of red’ poppy commemoration.

The 5000 Poppies project behind the idea began as a small tribute by Aussie founders Lynne Berry and Margaret Knight to honour their fathers who fought in World War II, before blossoming into a national outpouring of respect and remembrance.

Margaret Knight’s father was a British soldier who fought in Europe and Lynne Berry’s father Wal Beasley was an Australian infantryman who fought in New Guinea.

Co-founder and fabric artist Lynn said: “This tiny personal project started out to pay tribute to my gorgeous dad Wal Beasley and Marg’s wonderful dad Stan Knight who were our personal heroes.

“But that is just one story of a project that is rich in stories.

“Every single contributor has done so for their own reasons – personal and private and or shared with the community at large.

“Everyone has a story behind their poppies – I love that.”

The project expanded to the wider community with a 5,000 poppy target, which formed the centrepiece of Melbourne Anzac Day 2015 commemorations, and has now made it to the world stage in London.

Now the display of 300,000 handmade poppies will decorate the front of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and is a collaboration between 5000 Poppies project and Melbourne designer Phillip Johnson, who won Best Show Garden in 2013.

Lynn said: “Phillip’s wonderful design is stunning in its simplicity – and will no doubt be the highlight of the show.

“We are so excited about being invited to be a part of Chelsea. It really is the pinnacle of horticultural events worldwide with a television audience of more than 3.5 billion.”

The individually crocheted poppies are a tribute to all Commonwealth service men and women who served in all wars in the armed forces over the last 100 years, and will cover 2,000 square metres of the grounds.

It is the first time the Chelsea Flower Show has integrated so dramatically with the Royal Hospital Chelsea and its grounds.

On Anzac Day 2015 the project ‘planted’ more than a quarter of a million poppies in Federation Square and on Princes Bridge, Melbourne for the Anzac Day marchers to march through.

Anzac Day is the most important commemoration day in Australia and New Zealand, surpassing even Remembrance Day.

The day commemorates the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps April 25 landing in the Battle of Gallipoli in far-western Turkey in World War I.

The Chelsea Flow Show exhibit has been sponsored by the Government of Victoria Department of Veterans Affairs, which has enabled the largely unfunded community project to come to Chelsea, and has taken thousands upon thousands of man and woman hours to complete.

Some 1,200 stems made in Melbourne have been flown round the world to attach to poppy blooms made by Knitting for Victory in the UK.

The poppy makers come from a smorgasbord of backgrounds, from community groups to schools and retirement homes, with ages ranging from 2 to 102.

Huge crowds gathered in 2014 as more than 888,000 poppies covered the grounds of the Tower of London in ‘seas of red’ to commemorate the centenary of the onset of the First World War.

The Chelsea Flower Show is the world’s most famous and prestigious flower show, it was once the UK’s largest but has now been overtaken by Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in Richmond upon Thames.

Run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), it was first held in the grounds of Chelsea Hospital in 1913, and has been held every year since, except hiatuses for both world wars.

Three of the show’s original exhibitors in 1913 can still be seen at the show today: Kelways Plants, McBean’s Orchids and Blackmore & Langdon.

The Great Pavillion covers nearly 3 acres, large enough to park 500 London buses.

Other highlights of the event include a Flower of the Year competitor, a baby pink bloom named after the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The Princess Charlotte chrysanthemum will be available at Waitrose, with 50p from the sale donated to an East Anglian children’s hospice charity that Kate is patron of.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 takes place May 24-28.

Featured image courtesy of artist Colin Johnson, with thanks

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