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British Garden at Hanover Square

The Queen Elizabeth II September 11th Garden

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Within the shady recesses of New York’s financial district is a garden, commissioned by the British Memorial Garden Trust and given to the city in memory of British and Commonwealth citizens who lost their lives during the attacks of September 11th 2001 and in the ensuing wars.

The garden was developed from a plan by English landscape designers Julian and Isabel Bannerman. It combines this park’s footprint with the shape of the British Isles, wrapping the plantings with a ribbon of Morayshire sandstone quarried from the highlands of Scotland. A geography lesson, this ribbon of stone is inscribed from north to south with the shires of the British Isles, from Aberdeen to Portland. The large, rounded “Braemar’ stone, from a riverbed near the HM The Queen’s home in Balmoral, sits at the south end of the garden - in the spirit of a cairn, marking the distance from Aberdeen.

Here the rich tradition of English gardens meets the urban American landscape. New York based garden designers Lynden B. Miller and Ronda M. Brands worked with the Bannerman design to create an enduring garden for all seasons, with plants that capture the spirit of an English garden.

The four evergreen hollies (Ilex x aquipernyi “Dragon Lady’), cultivars derived from an English holly parent, stand as entry pillars at the north and south ends of the garden. They are linked to the vertical spires of Sky Pencil hollies (Ilex crenata “Sky Pencil’) by a winding row of 67 nandinas (Nandina domestica “Gulf Stream’), evergreen shrubs with foliage that turns red and orange in the colder months, each signifying one of the 67 British victims of 9/11. Â Along the backs of the serpentine benches - made of white Portland stone quarried in southern England and carved in Northern Ireland - are rounded yew shrubs (Taxus x media “Brownii’), long-lived evergreens and an iconic feature of English churchyards, embodying the natural link between the living and the dead. These plants are the backbone of the garden, suggesting the narrative that led to its making.

Nestled within is a range of herbaceous and woody flowering plants that recall the plant palette of an English garden, ranging from the tiny blue flower of the Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) and the pink blossom of pigsqueak (Bergenia cordifolia “Bressingham Ruby’) to a host of  hydrangeas, spireas, rhododendrons and azaleas. The flowering lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), a native of Europe and often found in English gardens, bears lime-green florets in early summer. At the southern reach of the planting beds - where the nandina ribbon ends - rises a yellow magnolia, fortuitously called Magnolia “Elizabeth’. The garden’s namesake HM Queen Elizabeth II visited this living memorial on July 6, 2010. The Magnolia “Elizabeth’, patented at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1977, was planted by her grandson HRH Prince Harry on May 29, 2009.  With fragrant yellow flowers, it is an early bloomer, catching the first rays of spring light as the sun rises over the tops of the skyscrapers and into the garden.

Along the periphery and upon the slate walk are reminiscences of the Commonwealth, placed here to be read like mementos of friendship between the Americans and the British. The four national flowers of the British Isles ”“ rose for England, daffodil for Wales, thistle for Scotland and flax for Northern Ireland ”“ are embossed on the finials that top the Eastern Memorial Fence.

Gardens can be read like letters, each flower capturing a part of a human story. Here amongst the quarried stone and plantings, sent from the English to the Americans in a time of mutual loss, this garden can be read and reread in the days after, remembering, healing, and ever cultivating.

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