We tell the story of how an oak tree with a poignant history lives on in Kew Gardens.
A specimen of Quercus petraea (sessile oak) was planted at Kew in 1919 from an acorn collected after the Battle of Verdun in France, one of the longest fought battles of the First World War. Lasting from February to December 1916 and resulting in over 700,000 French and German casualties, the battle also devastated thousands of hectares of surrounding Verdun oak and chestnut forests.
Sadly this dignified oak tree, which grew for almost 100 years on the edge of the Palm House Pond, was struck during the severe 'St Jude's Day' storm that affected southern England in October 2013.
The tree was subsequently felled, however, determined that this special oak would endure in the Gardens, Kew’s Head of Arboretum, Tony Kirkham, conceived the idea of creating a commemorative outdoor seat from the timber - the Verdun Bench.
Oak is a good choice for an outdoor seat, being naturally impermeable and durable. Working with Gaze Burvill, specialists in designing and crafting oak outdoor seating, a bench was created in the shape of an inverted triangle with a brass plaque on the top to mark the dates of the Battle of Verdun.
One side of the bench is scorched black in reference to the horrors of battle, another side has been left to weather naturally, and the third side bears streak marks from six metal nails left in the tree decades before, hidden from sight by the tree's growth and only discovered during the sawing process.
The Verdun Bench is located on the edge of a path between the Palm House and the Temple of Aeolus by the Palm House Pond, in the shadows of a tree that is a ‘brother’ of the original oak.
A grafted tree has also been created (using tissue from the original oak), which has been nurtured by Tony and his team over the past two years, in the hope of planting it out in the future.
Kew has decided that the remaining unblemished boards successfully cut from the Verdun Oak trunk will be made into seats, to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War in 2018. These seats are available for sponsorship through the Kew Foundation, please contact Charlotte on 020 8332 3238.