British Memorial Garden

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While debate continues over what will be built at Ground Zero, work has started this week on the construction of a new Memorial park the size of a city block in the historic Wall St neighborhood. It is dedicated to the 67 British victims who died on Sept 11th. Judith Kampfner reports from the ground breaking ceremony.

REPORTER: Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, is used to wielding a shovel but today he’s flanked by a long haired British Earl and women in large hats. He is reading from a Dylan Thomas poem about nature’s healing power.

REPORTER: The three quarters of an acre site will be torn apart from the paving stones upwards. There will be no standard Parks Department fixtures because every element from benches to lamps will be made by craftsmen incorporating British materials.

BENEPE: It is a rather undistinguished space right now and it will become one of the most spectacular parks in the city when it is done. There is no park anywhere in the city which has this level of talent working on its design.

REPORTER: Stonemason Simon Verity will interlock 240 paving flagstones which will become the base of this British Memorial Garden. He’ll weave two colors of stone have been brought from the wilds of Scotland, to create a poetic representation of the map of the British Isles.

REPORTER: Verity’s workshop is at the side of St John the Divine Cathedral. For ten years, he worked on stone blocks around the main church door. For the British garden he has is hand carving inscriptions of each of the 95 counties of England. The lettering is wild and the background designs convey his ideas about the landscape.Wavy wheatfields, flamboyant curlicues and wild hedgerows.

VERITY: People would say to me.. don’t you get bored carving out this word “ shire” and I say no, each of these is a different shire.”

VERITY: As I’m chiseling, I’m thinking of the letter form I’m carving and the extraordinary country I’m from.

REPORTER: His hundreds of thousands of hammer blows will mark the hardwearing flagstone for years to come.

VERITY: If you put a lot of feeling and energy into it, that will come out.

REPORTER: A winding snake of water will splash over the stones down the natural slope of the site of the British Memorial Garden. It’s a modern variant of a curving Welsh stream called a rill. The landscape architects who were chosen to lay out the garden have just worked on a formal design for Prince Charles’ estate. But here they have let their imagination run wild. Topiary sculptures up to sixteen feet high will have whimsical shapes - like ice cream cones and chess figures – Alice in wonderland style. The garden will be anchored by a sculpture from Britain’s celebrated artist Anish Kapoor. Called “Unity”, it’s a shiny black granite monolith symbolizing Anglo American friendship.

CAMILLA HELLMAN: Anish Kapoor won our competition for a sculpture

REPORTER:Camilla Hellman the driving force behind the garden says the artist has positioned it to reflect light coming in from the East river.

HELLMAN: It will be a hollowed out chamber reflecting light with a flame inside.

REPORTER: The inventiveness of the park can be seen also in fibre optic lights coming out from boxwood hedges and curving benches and plantings of simple as well as formal flowers. The color scheme is cool whites pinks blues and lavenders staying the same throughout the seasons.

HELLMAN: This garden is tradition but with edge, we’re quirky in Britain, we’re eccentric. There’s an eccentricity to this and a personality.

REPORTER: Although this is a memorial garden, there’ll be no explicit reference to the World trade bombing but Simon Verity has carved 67 different finials - decorative fence tops - as a tribute to the 67 Britons who died. One supporter of the garden is Charles Wolf. His wife who was a native of Wales, worked on the 97th floor of Tower One. He said he was thrilled that the park had design integrity. But from his own perspective -

Wolf: It should have had names, but delicately done, not in your face – names and what county they came from but in a situation like this, I leave it to the designers because they have done such a good job. But it’s very personal to me. I have no grave for my wife.

REPORTER: Wolf said he would come down to watch the design take shape and see the garden grow. It’s a gift he said from the Ango American community to New York. The British Memorial Garden is tucked away in area with British roots – aptly called Hanover Square in 1714 after King George 1. Walk down Wall St, take a right on Water St and you’ll come upon it. This oasis in the canyons of financial highrises will officially open next summer.

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