Floral tribute to World War I set to battle for Britain in Bloom

Tuesday, 29th July 2014

A floral statue of a soldier created as a tribute to the fallen of World War I is the centrepiece of Tamworth’s battle to win the national Britain in Bloom contest.

Sponsored by Ankerside Shopping Centre, the life-size figure is made up of hundreds of hand-planted succulents.  The statue of the WWI soldier on Lichfield Road roundabout stands on sandbags and  leans on a post carved from a 250-year-old Tamworth oak whilst brandishing a gun.

 Ankerside Shopping Centre deputy manager  Jeff Wigley (white shirt) and Melvyn Clark of Tamworth Borough Council inspect the floral statue that forms the centrepiece of the town’s bid to win Britain in Bloom, World War I

Ankerside Shopping Centre deputy manager  Jeff Wigley (left) and Melvyn Clark of Tamworth Borough Council inspect the floral statue that forms the centrepiece of the town’s bid to win Britain in Bloom

Informally dubbed “Tommy” after the nick-name for those fighting in the war, the tribute has already won praise from passers-by with one even leaving a poppy cross at its plinth, said Melvyn Clark of Tamworth Borough Council.

He’s now putting the finishing touches to the rest of the town’s floral decorations, all on the theme Lest We Forget, to make sure they all look their best when judges for Britain in Bloom visit on Friday August 1.  Judges from the regional Heart of England awards came last month – but the Tamworth in Bloom team must wait until autumn before they know the results.

“Passers-by were all stopping to look as we put up the statue, and we even nearly had a couple of car crashes. There has been so much interest from people,” said Melvyn.

“The statue is on a plinth and is about 6ft high so very eye-catching. It is the centrepiece of the traffic island, which also has a bed with floral poppies and another with plants marking out 1914-18, the dates of the war.

“We wanted to commemorate World War I and thought this would be an ideal way to do it. We researched photos of WWI soldiers and decided that this one would be the most like what people think of as a Tommy.

“I was delighted when Ankerside Shopping centre agreed to sponsor the statue – support from local businesses like this really makes a difference. Tamworth in Bloom is all about making this a better place to live, to help people have a pride on their town and to make it look its best, both for the residents and for our visitors.”

Ankerside Shopping Centre deputy manager Jeff Wigley believes the  Tamworth in Bloom team have come up with their best designs yet.

“The statue is quite remarkable – it is extremely eye-catching when you come into the town. Tamworth in Bloom should be praised for their work, and I hope the judges for the Heart of England in Bloom and Britain in Bloom contests agree.

“Here at Ankerside we are very fortunate that we are surrounded by the handiwork of Tamworth Council, especially the lovely beds in the castle grounds, which are a treat all year round. You can’t beat having a cake and a coffee at AB’s café and enjoying the view.”

The figure was created by horticulturalist Richard Smith at his plant nursery in Mancetter, who was also responsible for the Saxon warrior statue at Tamworth castle.

“There are about 1,500 plants, and it took around 40 hours work to put them into the statue. The figure is made of metal, covered with chicken wire, and we had to fill it with wet compost and then plant each one individually by hand. To give it more support we put in an oak post, made from a 250-year-old tree cut down near here.

“We raised the plants last autumn and spring so they were well-rooted. They are a mix of sedum and sempervivums, with different colours for the face, webbing and the gun.

“They are frost hardy so they should last until next year, provided the winter isn’t too bad  – though with this warm weather they will need the occasional watering,”  added Richard.

Tamworth has won gold in the Heart of England in Bloom Small City category for the last four years, and for 2014 the town is representing the region in the Britain in Bloom competition. Run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) the campaign is celebrating its 50th anniversary, with more than 1,000 entrants.

Two RHS judges ae due to visit Tamworth on August 1 to meet community representatives and go on a tour of local projects. As well as the usual bedding displays, judges will inspect everything from local recycling initiatives to areas of natural habitat and conservation. They will also be looking at the management of street furniture and public parks, and will be assessing how well Tamworth in Bloom is responding to climate change and council cuts by giving awards for sustainable practices and inventive schemes to raise money to fund projects.

Tamworth will be competing with Bath, Bracknell, Chorley, Crawley, Derry City, Harrogate and Loughborough in the Small City category. Results will be announced at an awards ceremony in Bristol this October and will be attended by representatives of all 74 finalists.

John Garner, Chairman of Britain in Bloom said: “We are extremely grateful to Ankerside for their sponsorship of the figure of a First World War soldier and pleased that such an important Tamworth business is supporting our Tamworth In Bloom campaign.

“All eyes are on Tamworth this year as we represent the Heart Of England region in the Small City category of the national Britain In Bloom campaign and we are delighted that Ankerside is helping us to pay tribute to those who served in the First World War.”