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Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial

Bain Park in Trenton, Ontario
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

January 18, 2014

Gentle Reader, there are no words to express the meaning of this memorial; each of us will have very different and personal thoughts. When the idea was originally expressed, the response was both national and global; and immediate. The support from local residents and businesses should be taken to show the depth of support, appreciation and meaning we Canadians have for those who represent us in such times and such places.

When you visit the memorial you will see a small garden in the background. I’d like to tell you a little bit about the plants you will see.

Each plant had to meet specific requirements. There had to be a symbolism that could be associated with each one. The peculiar interpretation in this column is mine; each visitor will have their own idea. They had to be tough and hardy to survive both our climate and the rigours of being in a public park. For this reason, even though we may be very confident in the origin of these plants, research was carried out and each of these plants are listed as growing in Afghanistan- mostly in cultivated gardens. They had to provide year round interest and they had to look good together. They had to be common enough to be available in a variety of sizes in case a replacement was needed. (As an aside, GR, “common” should not be taken as a negative.

These plants can be seen to represent common folk who did uncommon things.) At the moment, there is quite a bit of open space between the plantings which will diminish as they grow. There is a balance between “instant” garden and the ability of the plant to sustain itself in its new lodgings. At maturity, with minimum pruning, this garden will evolve into a full presentation without overcrowding or single plant dominance. Additionally, there are times when the colours present might not be as vivid as folks might wish. For that reason there are two planting strips in the bed which, from the front perspective, will flank the monuments themselves. This space can be used for wreaths, crosses, swags, plunged plants, etc.

The plant list is:

Barberry, Berberis thunbergii ‘Royal Cloak’; Burning bush, ‘Euonymus alatus ‘Compacta’; Garden juniper, Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’; Orange Flame grass, Miscanthus sinensis Andersson subsp. purpurascens; Red switch grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’; and, Dwarf Ramapo rhododendron, Rhododendron x Ramapo (H-1).

Fall presentation- from first frost to early winter. In the event of a late or warm fall, the bright red leaves of the burning bush and the rustier red of the rhododendron combined with the orange blades of the flame grass are evocative of many images- blood, flames and, better yet, the fierce determination of our compatriots. The barberry, too, may have some rusty leaves still attached but the compelling feature will be the sharp piercing thorns creating as impenetrable a barrier as concertina wire. The tall feathery plumes of the flame grass can be likened to banners or guidons drawing attention to the site; the open airy panicles of the switch grass resonate and dance with the slightest caress of wind.

Winter presentation- the winged or corky bark on the burning bush will catch both hoar frost and snow, creating starkly distinct architecture, as will the barberry’s thorns. Both of these shrubs will have small orange berries and they will attract small seed eating birds such as chickadees. The rhododendron may appear barren of life but next years buds will prominently displayed with its promise of early spring flowering. The green of the juniper will always be there, tenacious, ever expanding.

Spring presentation- as the snow melts, the ever-present green juniper will be first to show awakening followed shortly by the opening flowers of the rhodos. A line from a Gordon Lightfoot song comes to mind, “And the earth shall bring new life to them, but only the grass will grow once more.” Look to the grasses to see the new shoots coming forth.

Summer presentation- Each plant in full vigour, will display their characteristics and qualities in full boldness. It was important that these ‘common’ plants did not overwhelm or detract from the monument. Their purpose is to provide a backdrop and perhaps add some direction for reflection.

From the north side, the mature garden will add an attractive backdrop to the park grounds and provide a calming barrier for those visiting the monument.

From the Trews song Highway of Heroes, the closing line- “Who could ask for more?”

From me, “For the uniforms you wear and for what you do, Thank you.”

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