Ness Botanic Gardens: Bringing history to life in a feature garden

Marle Hesp, widow of prisoner of war Harry Hesp, with Pensby Secondary School students in the bamboo garden © Liverpool EchoA bamboo garden at Ness Botanic Gardens brings the experiences of prisoners of war in the Far East to life, by recreating part of a jungle encampment on the Thai Burma Railway.

The feature garden tells the story of prisoners of war in the Far East during World War II and how bamboo played a major role in their captive lives. Originally created for the RHS Show Tatton Park in 2010, where it won a Silver Gilt award, the garden is a collaboration between Ness, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Pensby High School for Girls.

Easy to work with and quick to regenerate, bamboo was used in dozens of practical ways in prisoner of war camps in the Far East: to make huts, utensils, drainage systems and even medical equipment such as intravenous needles. And of course as food, bamboo shoots are both edible and nutritious.

Bringing history to life

The bamboo feature garden © Liverpool EchoThe garden incorporates art and creative writing produced by Pensby students based on oral history interviews of Far East prisoners of war from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s archive. “In creating the garden we set out to bring a little-known aspect of WWII history to life,” says Paul Cook, Curator of Ness Botanic Gardens. “The students’ work forges a connection between the past and the present, and encourages visitors to reflect on what they’re seeing.”

The real-life experiences of prisoners of war are also used in an audio trail created for the bamboo garden. The audio trail features horticultural information about the planting scheme, extracts from oral history interviews with a dentist, an artist and an injured soldier who were held captive in the Far East, and contributions from students at Pensby.

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