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Archives for November 26, 2015

Holiday centerpieces the focus at Dec. 15 Duval County Extension Service workshop – Florida Times

The Duval County Extension Service hosts a “Gardening Gifts” holiday workshop at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, at its office at 1010 N. McDuff Ave.

The program provides hands-on information on how to make a holiday table centerpiece from a typical home’s landscaping, as well as gift ideas from recycled materials. The class costs $10 per person, with participants able to take home one centerpiece. Pre-registration and pre-payment required by Wednesday, Dec. 9 – call (904) 255-7450 to register.

Checks can be made out to the county extension service, and mailed to 1010 N. McDuff Ave., Jacksonville, Fl. 32254.

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Let the spirit move you at Holland Nursery and Landscaping’s Christmas shop

Walk into the Christmas Store at Holland Nursery and Landscaping, and it’s highly likely that the Christmas spirit will hit you like a sack full of toys. Plainly speaking, it’s beautiful in there. Like being in a living Christmas card, the store is warm and cozy with soft holiday music playing, sparkling with lights and expertly decorated designer trees, and festive colors of red, green, silver and gold everywhere. In fact, Lynda Heemink, who owns and operates the Christmas Store and Holland Nursery and Landscaping with her son Dale Lingscheit, encourages browsing and lingering for as long as you like.

“Just come and see,” she says. “You can’t really appreciate it until you see the beauty of it.”

Located at 8812 144th St. E. in Puyallup, it’s a pleasant drive through the country to get to the store and very much worth the outing with family and friends. Open from the first week in October to the last week in December, the Christmas Store’s interior is completely re-done each year, so if you’ve been there before, you’ll want to go again to see all that’s new.

“We do a total redecorating sweep,” Heemink said. “We totally re-do it. It’s a whole new look.”

Fresh wreaths arrived just last week, and Heemink or one of her friendly helpers will be glad to add a customized bow hand-tied for you on the spot.

The Christmas Store is packed full of items such that you can spend a wonderful time seeing them all, and everything is showcased to give ideas on how to bring the look into your own home. The decorated trees are breathtaking to behold and reminiscent of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” when the Peanuts gang took a plain tree and transformed it into something dazzling.

“We love for people to come and see and get inspired,” Heemink said.

Popular items this year at the Christmas Store lend a woodsy, Northwest ambiance all wrapped up in styles of the season.

“Our woodland friends are really doing well this year – of course always the birds, and we have a lot of moose that have really been popular, and the fox. One cute little thing this year the ladies seem to love are the hedgehogs,” Heemink said.

Gnomes are also big this year, according to Heemink – fat little fellas with a jolly nose you just want to reach out and tweak. Be sure and check out the gnome-themed tree toward the back of the store. Gingerbread figures and items are also popular, and Heemink stocks these along with a wealth of other smile-inducing Christmastime décor items. She’s carrying a brand new line of flameless candles this year as well, with a softly glowing “flame” that waves back and forth just like a real candle, but much safer and cleaner. “You don’t have to worry,” Heemink said. “They go off automatically, and when children are around, you don’t have to worry about it.”

Family owned and operated since 1992, Holland Nursery and Landscaping can make the outside of your home or business look impressive too, offering complete landscape services, water features like rock fountains and pondless waterfalls, ponds, sprinkler systems, landscape lighting, pavers and block walls. Learn more by calling (253) 841-1200. Holland Nursery and Landscaping, and the Christmas Store, are open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also visit

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Rocky road for I-49 Connector: questions if road design would disconnect …

The renewed push for the Interstate 49 Connector through Lafayette seems to be off to a bumpy start.

The state Department of Transportation and Development launched an outreach effort last month to gather public input for the road design, but questions have already arisen about what’s up for discussion and what’s not.

The apparent disconnect between state transportation officials and some locals surfaced publicly in project meetings last week, soon after a DOTD consultant likened the task at hand to picking out wallpaper and colors for a house that’s almost finished.

Lafayette City-Parish planner Neil LeBouef countered that DOTD might meet resistance if it sticks rigidly to preliminary engineering work for the road.

“It’s going to lead you down a very difficult path,” he said. “There may be alternatives that are better for the community.”

In official public statements, DOTD has maintained everything is still up for discussion, barring a shift in the planned footprint of the mostly elevated 5.5-mile stretch of interstate that would roughly follow the path of Evangeline Thruway.

In project meetings, a more nuanced picture emerges: Existing plans for the Connector are not set in stone, but there could be limits to major changes in elevation, frontage roads, and the location and design of interchanges.

A key issue, at least from DOTD’s perspective, is that the federal government has already signed off on the current route of the Connector and issued a “Record of Decision” in 2003.

DOTD says any major changes might void that Record of Decision, triggering another lengthy round of studies and public meetings on how the road would impact local traffic patterns, historic neighborhoods and the environment, among other things.

The Downtown Development Authority and city-parish officials have talked of several possible changes to the preliminary design, including higher elevations of the interstate in some areas to make it more inviting for parks underneath and eliminating or altering the planned exit for Second and Third streets to curb high-speed traffic in and around downtown.

The DDA also has questioned a plan that brings the interstate down near ground level as it skirts downtown, creating what some fear will be a wall separating downtown from communities on the other side of the road and not allowing for any public space under the interstate.

When DDA Marketing Director Kate Durio pressed DOTD officials at a recent project meeting on how open they might be to altering the design, the answers were guarded.

“It’s up for discussion. However, we do have a completed EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and a Record of Decision,” said John McNamara, a consultant for DOTD. “ There is a fine line we are going to try to walk.”

DOTD has pledged to move forward on the project with a so-called “context sensitive solutions” approach, which has sometimes been described as “thinking beyond the pavement.”

The idea is that roads are about more than just moving vehicles and that the design of an interstate can impact the character of everything around it.

It’s an approach meant to address all the obvious downsides of big, elevated roadways, which can divide cities, disrupt local traffic and shadow out quality development.

One problem is that a context sensitive approach ideally relies on extensive community input before a route is chosen or engineers begin design work.

There were public meetings held on selecting the current route, but it’s been more than a decade since there has been any serious public dialogue on the details of the interstate project.

So the current planning effort finds a new generation of community leaders learning about a Connector project after the route has been chosen, the interchanges identified and the engineering work begun.

It’s clear some issues are still up for discussion: the location parks and other public spaces underneath the interstate, landscaping, pedestrian and bike paths, lighting, and what colors, materials and aesthetic design themes should be used.

Altering an interchange, major shifts in elevation and other engineering changes move into murkier territory, and the test seems to be whether those changes might prompt federal highway officials to require an updated Record of Decision.

“Those are ideas we have to vet,” DOTD consultant Steve Wallace said at a meeting on the project last week.

The I-49 Connector, estimated to cost at least $700 million, is the one of most expensive segments in the plan to complete I-49 from Lafayette south to New Orleans.

The current questions come as the Connector project is moving forward after years of sparse activity, and there have always been concerns about building an elevated interstate through the city.

Though some of the specifics have been questioned, the project generally has strong support from local political leaders and has been identified as top priority by One Acadiana and the industry-backed I-49 South Coalition.

But as recently as 2013, local officials in St. Martin Parish and legislators representing the area asked DOTD to revisit an alternative route that would bring I-49 east of Lafayette through mostly undeveloped land in St. Martin Parish.

The route was considered and dismissed in the studies and public hearings leading up to the 2003 Record of Decision approving the current path of the Connector.

The current route also was the subject of an unsuccessful federal lawsuit in 2004 arguing that viable alternatives to building interstate through Lafayette were not considered.

Harold Schoeffler, a key opponent involved in the litigation, has recently renewed his fight against the road and has helped organize a “Y-49” meeting on Dec. 3 at the Lafayette Public Library to discuss plans for the road.

“Everybody else is tearing these things down,” he said.

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Oak Cliff gardener takes his passion to the next level

Van Johnson just has this enthusiasm for gardening. Maybe enthusiasm isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s passion. Maybe it’s obsession or even all-consuming ardor. Whatever the word, it’s the striking thing about Johnson.

Daily, he climbs in his Ford Escape and looks for new plants to add to already overstuffed beds. It can be hard to find a bargain after he sweeps through a nursery. The half-price hydrangeas are gone. The dollar pansies have been picked over. There are few “very interesting” orange coneflowers left.

He hauls soil and takes unwanted plants from friends’ and neighbors’ beds. He digs, even in the rain. He talks about gardening and his gardens and runs a popular Facebook page.

Johnson, 59, is not the only gardener with exuberance, but he is one of the few to show so many gardening traits so fiercely.

“You can never have too many plants,” he says cheerfully.

And his yards, front and back, are a testament to that.

Variety is good

His backyard has five distinct garden areas — Asian, Italian, tropical, shade and edible — along with grapes and a greenhouse. The pond is ecologically balanced to keep water clear without using a pump, filter or chemicals.

Johnson’s front yard in Stevens Park has undergone the most visible transformation over the last few months. He keeps a weatherproofed “before” photo posted on the curb to show passers-by what he started with: thick grass and some shrubs along the foundation.

“And people do stop and look. I see them as they drive by and slow down,” he says.

Now the only grass makes up St. Augustine pathways. In between are terraced beds packed with plants. There are the common roses, hydrangeas, Turk’s cap, mahonia and loropetalum. But there’s also a chocolate mimosa. It has the pink blooms remembered from childhood, but the fanlike leaves are brown instead of green. And there are some ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena with fuzzy pink blooms that smell like barbecue potato chips.

He says he likes the variety and crowded plants.

“I like a dense planting for habitat — birds, lizards and toads love it and eat bugs,” he says. “I garden organically so they are my living pesticides. As plants multiply, I thin them out and give them away to friends.”

Big family to feed

His love of gardening came from his grandmothers in Michigan. “I started helping them at age 12,” he says.

One family farmed and had nine children. “They had 11 people to feed; they had to know how to get good yields,” Johnson says.

He bought his first home in Michigan in 1976 and was nudged into organic gardening by his cousin Connie.

“She introduced me to mint plants, yogurt and organic gardening,” he says.

He bought his Stevens Park home in 1997 and continued gardening, mostly in the backyard. He says he found gardening trend-driven when he first moved to Dallas.

“This year it would be Bradford pears. Everybody would say, ‘Oh, you have to plant Bradford pears,’” he says. “You planted them and then they’d say, ‘No, those are out now. You have to rip those out.’”

Instead, he planted what he liked and what he thought would grow. He admits, though, that he’s planted small trees that eventually will shade out some of the flowers and decorative foliage under them. That’s OK, Johnson says. He’ll just take them out, give them away, and put in something more shade tolerant.

He began gardening almost nonstop three years ago.

“A lot of us in finance were laid off then,” Johnson says. “I looked around and saw how many were in the job market and just decided to lay back for a while.”

Following the path

His gardening took over, until he got a job at the Dallas Zoo working in horticulture. He gave that up, thinking it might be time to go back into the financial field. Instead, a neighbor encouraged him to dig out a pathway from the street to the front door. That involved ripping out the grass and landscaping the strip along the curb, then terracing the yard leading to the door. Everything else just flowed from there.

It’s not unusual for him to come home from a nursery run with 50 plants. And he crows about his bargain finds on the Facebook page he administers, Oak Cliff Gardeners. He also trades plants with other gardeners, offering his surplus in exchange for what they may be digging from their gardens.

He says he dabbles in selling antiques and has started a garden coaching business, helping others develop their gardens. He may go back into finance.

Until then, he’s going to keep prowling the nurseries, looking for great finds.

Karel Holloway is a Terrell freelance writer.

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Ashton House to be restored with help from state grant

City officials and leaders of Project GREEN hope to use a state grant to turn the Ned Ashton House in Iowa City and surrounding park into a local destination.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources in August awarded the city and Project GREEN a $154,079 Resource Enhancement and Protection grant that will be used for landscaping at the park and repairs to the house in order to preserve its historic architecture and integrity.

According to the city’s event facilities website, the Ned Ashton House was built in 1947 by Edward L. “Ned” Ashton, who was a professor of civil engineering at the University of Iowa from 1943 to 1957, as his private home near the Iowa River. Ashton is known to have designed several bridges over the Mississippi River and designed smaller bridges, including the Benton Street Bridge. Ashton “was a pioneer in the design of welded plate girder bridges,” the site says.

The house and surrounding gardens in 2001 were added to the National Register of Historic Places. During the historic 2008 flood, the property was severely damaged. The city purchased the property in October 2011 and has since used it as a special events facility and community center that can accommodate up to 100 people.

Diane Allen, a co-president of Project GREEN, said the group has partnered with the city to preserve the historic home and develop a ten-year plan to prevent future devastation caused by flooding.

“Our project manager, Laura Hawks, has designed a ten-year landscaping and restoration plan with many phases, and this is one of the phases that we will be able to carry out with the money that we got from the REAP grant. There are plans to put in a pergola structure, which will be a really nice addition to the property,” Allen said.

Laura Hawks, owner and a licensed landscape architect at Hawks Design, said other plans for the house and gardens include rain gardens to promote absorption of rain water, botanical garden beds and reforestation intended to lessen the impacts of flooding.

“With the REAP grant we were given two years to complete the improvements that we included in our request for funds on the application, so in two years — and actually we’d like to get these improvements done in one year — one of the first major tasks will be the reconstruction of the historic west terrace,” Hawks said. “There are trip hazards and other issues with the terrace area and because the city is renting out the property for weddings and other events it’s important that those hazards be cleared up.”

Hawks, whose father, Ed Hawks, worked with Ashton at UI during the late 1960s, said she looks forward to work beginning on the site next spring.

Assistant City Manager Geoff Fruin said that although the REAP grant will go a long way toward making improvements to the house and park, there is a “much grander vision” for the property.

“It’s already been a great addition to our parks system and we have been a number of groups that have rented it out for private events. The city has used it for public events as well, so it’s already been a great asset, and I think with this grant it just enhances the attractiveness and will probably make it more appealing for rentals as work progresses there,” Fruin said.

Reach Andy Davis at 319-887-5404 or at, and follow him on Twitter as @BylineAndyDavis.

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Written by Priscilla Seals

One of Blanco’s long-standing businesses, Blanco Gardens, is closing due to the health issues of owner Pete Foegelle and his wife Cheryl, who has been the manager of the popular garden center since 1998. New owner Amelia Lintner will re-open the business in February as gardeners plan their spring landscaping and gardens. Patrons such as this reporter have found inspiration for their yards while browsing in the verdant oasis, listening to the sounds of doves in the dovecote, soaking up the quiet and peace.
The last Saturday of its operation, found the shop crowded with shoppers getting the last of the closing deals but really taking the time for hugs and a few tears with Cheryl. In between, there was time for reminiscences of the events that started their business venture. Among the memorabilia on the wall is a framed newspaper article from October 1, 1998, announcing the opening of the center, along with a $1 bill from their first sale, to Shirley Laumer.
When the computer company for which Pete and Cheryl worked in San Antonio closed its doors, Pete was forced to seek other work doing construction with a relative. But as he told Cheryl, he had always wanted “to play in the dirt,” and when a “For Sale” sign went up on the garden center, they decided to take the plunge and become entrepreneurs. The plan was for Pete to do landscaping work in the morning while Cheryl worked at the center, then to come in to work there himself in the afternoons. “But it never happened,” laughs Cheryl, as his landscaping business took off, taking all of his time. Former owner Debbie Gray warned them that the center had never made money, but they were ready for the risk. Cheryl started out, just having had a knee replacement, knowing little about plants; but she says, “I knew I could learn. I asked a thousand questions, read a lot, asked suppliers questions.” And if she didn’t carry a plant or product a customer wanted, she would try to get it for them. If the plant was not suited to the Hill Country climate, she would say so. And the business has operated in the black.
In 2002 they moved into Blanco, and children Katherine and Shelby would ride the school bus to the center and do homework after school. Later Katherine took an interest in the business and helped her mother out. Eldest son Brandon, an adult by then, was living in San Antonio.
Pete, in Cheryl’s words, “has done many beautiful landscapes,” without a crew, using hand tools. “He could go to a yard that was a blank slate, listen to the customer’s vision, and he made it happen.” In addition, he did presentations for groups and especially wanted to educate kids to make a garden, grow their own food. He thought it was “so important to pass it on so that they could feed themselves,” said Cheryl. An April 3, 2002, Blanco County News story shows a picture of Pete with a 4-H group making a flower bed at the Blanco Post Office. Other articles about the business appeared in the following issues of the paper: March 7, 2001, October 3, 2001, October 17, 2001, and April 24, 2002. A July 2006 issue of Hill Country Sun, by Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, features a photo of a very young Pete and Cheryl surrounded by plants. Keep Blanco Beautiful chose Blanco Gardens as their Business Yard of the Month at one point.
As this chapter of their lives draws to a close, Cheryl hopes to find another job nearby without the physical demands a garden center requires. But she looks back on the years of their “Ma-and-Pa nursery” with gratitude for her many customers and “fair weather” friends who showed up every spring with new optimism for a beautiful garden. “I’ve loved doing this,” she says, “serving the community, and meeting so many wonderful people. I will miss it and all of you.”

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10 November Gardening Tips

As leaves begin to fall and temperatures get cooler, it’s easy to forget about all the outdoor chores we need to do before the ground gets covered in snow. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of some helpful November gardening tips from Better Homes and Gardens to get you out and accomplishing the last of your fall garden checklist!


1. November Planting


Now is the time to plant your spring flowering bulbs, garlic, and any other new additions to your garden, about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. Make sure you apply a thick layer of mulch to insulate the soil if planting late in the season.


2. Leftover Leaves


Don’t worry if you don’t get all the leaves raked up this fall. Leaving some beneath shrubs will provide shelter for insects, which will then feed the birds in the spring. Do make sure to remove leaves near the shed, garage, or home that can provide shelter for pests like rodents.


3. Perennial Chores


Cut back your perennials, leaving 2-3 inches of the stem to protect them when they begin to emerge in the spring. Some perennials can also help add interest to your winter garden by attracting birds, like coneflowers or black-eyed Susans.


4. Plan for Next Spring


Use the down time of the fall to get a head start on your garden beds for the spring. Create rich plant-ready compost by layering cardboard, chopped leaves, straw, mulch, etc. on top of grass.


5. For the Birds


If you have a birdbath, think about adding a heater. Find out what type of birds you’d like to attract and see what kind of feeder/seed you need to accomplish that.


6. Power Tools/Hand Tools


Run the gas out of your power tools and sharpen any blades so they’re ready for use in the spring. Clean off any dirt on your hand tools like shovels, spades, or trowels to make sure they stay in good condition.  


Finish reading the rest of the tips here! What do you do to your garden in the fall to get it ready for the winter? 

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YOUR GARDEN GUY: Tips for purchasing poinsettias this season

Happy Thanksgiving! This year has really gone by fast! However, there is still plenty to do in the landscape. Buy poinsettia plants now for color throughout the holidays. Here are some tips about poinsettias.

Pick plants that are rich in color and that have no browning at the leaf tips. There should be no signs of wilting from a lack of water.

Buy plants that are free from disease and insects. Turn over several leaves and inspect them for unwanted holiday pests. And then, refuse to bring them home. I think there is a correlation here.

Poinsettias should have a group of tight yellow buds at the center of the colorful brackets (flowers). If the yellow buds have started to open, the plant is past its prime.

Once home, place your poinsettia near a window with at least six hours of bright, indirect sunlight, avoid drafts and keep the soil slightly moist, not soggy.

These holiday plants come in a variety of colors. As with any design, try to coordinate the flower colors with the colors of your decorations.

Buy a colorful holiday container for your poinsettia. Those “shiny plastic things” that the plant is in when you buy it are meant to be temporary. Now you know!

Remember, one very large, colorful, healthy poinsettia makes a more dramatic and tasteful statement than a bunch of “teenie tiny” plants!

One final note: I’m not a fan of the poinsettias with sparkles or artificial coloring on the flowers. Give me some of those ole fashion Christmas poinsettias, please!

Todd Goulding provides residential landscape design consultations. Contact him at or 478-345-0719.

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Jack Christensen’s garden tips for the week starting Nov. 28

Avocado time: Harvest Fuerte avocados from now through March by cutting stems close to the fruit, not breaking them off. The crop is ready when picked fruits soften without shriveling, so try a few first to see how they do. Then taste-test to make sure they are ready. Guacamole, dips and an astonishing array of mouth-watering recipes await your creative touch on the Internet by using the search term “avocado recipes.”

Out with the old, fruit, that is: Although this is an easy task, it is vitally important. Pick up and dispose of any old fruit, whether it is on the ground or dried up and clinging to the tree. These so-called “mummies” harbor reproductive disease spores that can devastate trees next spring and reduce the quality and quantity of next year’s harvest.

Daylilies: Divide overgrown or declining daylily clumps any time from now until early March. First cut back the tops to only about 3 inches. Then carefully dig the plants — inserting the shovel about a foot away from the center, all the way around the plants, in order to minimize damage to the fleshy roots. Clean off the dead leaf debris. Divide into clumps with three to six plants together and replant them a foot or more apart in a sunny location at the same depth as before.

Agapanthus: Divide and replant Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile). When clumps get too big or crowded, dig all around the clump 6 to 10 inches deep then tilt the handle of the shovel to lift the clump out of the soil. I like to break or cut the older rhizomes apart so the each new clump has three to five foliage fans. Then replant the new clumps so they can settle in over the winter and be prepared to bloom again next spring.

Spice of life: Save your homegrown spices to savor later by drying them now. Harvest and dry mint leaves before plants go dormant. Basil will die back, so preserve those flavorful leaves while you can. Parsley, rosemary and thyme will remain usable on the plants as fresh herbs throughout winter; or you could hang any of these herbs in loosely tied bundles to dry, then store the whole, dried herb leaves in air-tight containers to retain freshness.

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Muslim brothers in arms at rest in UK peace garden

The restoration of The Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden in England is a timely reminder of the bonds that tie the country to its Muslim brothers and sisters.

At first sight there could not be a more English scene: a walled garden, complete with an ornamental pool, mowed lawns and climbing roses whose tranquillity is disturbed only by the sound of birdsong and gently trickling water.

Surrounded by a pine forest enjoyed by dog walkers, joggers and squirrels alike, the garden sits on the edge of Horsell Common in Surrey – a county the poet John Betjeman described as the “patio of England” – and Woking, a town whose claims to fame include being the setting for HG Wells’ science-fiction novel The War of the Worlds and the home of the punk/mod-revival band The Jam.

But closer inspection reveals that appearances can be deceptive. Rather than a traditional gate, the garden’s entrance is formed by a chhatri, a small, domed pavilion topped with gilded finial in the form of a lotus flower that is as much a feature of the Edwin Lutyen’s Edwardian imperial architecture of New Delhi as of South Asia’s traditional Islamic architecture.

Inside, subtle lines of planting and two permanent stone prayer mats are aligned on the qibla to face Mecca and the 27 white birch trees that line the garden’s central pool are of the Himalayan variety rather than a British native species.

Just as the garden’s sandstone paving is Indian, its small memorial, which acts as the garden’s focal point directly opposite the chhatri, is inscribed with the traditional Muslim funerary phrase “For God We Are and To God We Go” and bears 27 names including Khan, Shah, Muhammad and Ali whose origins are unmistakably Islamic.

The Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden is a registered war memorial that sits very close to the UK’s first purpose-built Muslim place of worship, Woking’s Shah Jahan Mosque.

Commissioned in 1915, the Peace Garden was originally known as the Woking Muslim Cemetery and soon became the final resting place of 19 soldiers from the First World War and a further eight from the Second World War. All of these servicemen fought for the Allies in different regiments, three from North Africa served with the French Foreign Legion, but most were recruited from the areas now known as the Punjab and Pakistan.

The bodies of the soldiers and their gravestones were moved to the nearby Muslim burial ground in Brookwood Military Cemetery in 1969. However, thanks to its recent restoration, the Muslim Burial Ground and Peace Garden is not only playing a key role in the UK’s commemorations of the centenary of the First World War but is becoming a key site in the battle for hearts and minds that surrounds contemporary debates about Islam, migrants and what it means to be a Muslim in 21st-century Britain.

“This garden works in a very unique way because it serves as an icon for a very English Islam and a harmony between the cultures that is beautiful,” says poet and playwright Avaes Mohammad.

“It’s a combination of English and Islamic garden design. Obviously it’s influenced by Islamic gardens of the Mughal variety but to make it work the designers couldn’t use the pomegranate and fig trees you might see at the Alhambra, they’ve used yew trees and an English lawn and climbing roses.

“I think it’s a wonderful metaphor for how the confluence between English and Islamic culture can occur because the garden is revered so highly in both.”

Mr Mohammad is managing An Unknown and Untold Story – The Muslim Contribution to The First World War, a 14-month community outreach programme that is attempting to raise public awareness about the Muslims who served in the British army in the First World War.

A joint effort between British Future, a think tank dedicated to debating issues relating to migration, integration and contemporary British identity – and New Horizons in British Islam, and organisation committed to reform in Muslim practise and thought, An Unknown and Untold Story uses workshops, presentations and seminars to reach out to community and youth-based groups as well as members of the British military.

“The reason we think it’s a pertinent story is because of its contemporary significance,” says Mr Mohammad, who is also a trustee of the Bhopal Medical Appeal and works closely with English PEN, the worldwide writers’ association, as a writer and facilitator.

“The story of the 400,000 Muslims who fought for Britain during the First World War contributes to the immigration and integration debate in ways that are positive for both camps.

“We think that the fact Muslims have served this country historically can help show that there need not be any concerns about allegiance or loyalty. The culture and identity we enjoy today is as much a part of their sacrifice as anybody else’s.”

For Avaes Mohammad, the often-overlooked narrative of the 1.2 million and 2.4 million soldiers who served in the British Indian army during the First and Second World Wars respectively, also serves young British Muslims who lack confidence in their British identity, by telling them about the sacrifices made by their ancestors or by people who came from their own countries of origin.

“It can allow them to feel a legitimate claim on and connection with this country that goes beyond the traditional narrative of immigration in the 1970s and the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis by underlining the strong and shared claim that Muslim and non-Muslim Britons can all make to British identity today.”

Mr Mohammad attended the garden’s official opening on November 12 in the presence of Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, members of the British armed forces and Sophena Alison Chisembele, the daughter of Youssif Ali, the last soldier who was buried in the cemetery in 1947.

The ceremony was accompanied by a minute’s silence, prayers were read by a military chaplain and the ministry of defence’s Islamic religious adviser Imam Asim Hafiz. The Last Post was sounded by a bugler from the Royal Logistics Corps.

The garden would not have existed in its current form had it not been for the work of Zafar Iqbal, a policy adviser with Woking borough council and Elizabeth Cuttle, a volunteer trustee with the Horsell Common Preservation Society (HCPS), the trust that owns and manages the local land for the benefit of the environment and the community.

Mrs Cuttle and Mr Iqbal first started to work on the project in 2011, securing funding for the restoration of its walls and chhatri in 2013, but succeeded in raising money for the peace garden only thanks to grants from government agencies.

Donations from the HCPS, the local Shah Jahan mosque, which is the UK’s oldest purpose-built place of Muslim prayer, raised more than £10,000 (Dh55,332) during a single day of Friday prayers and the project also received a gift of 20,000 rials (Dh2097) from the government of the Sultanate of Oman.

The new garden was designed by Terra Firma Ltd, a team of UK-based landscape architects who have experience of designing war memorials and was built with the help of serving soldiers from the British army, including members of the Armed Forces Muslim Association and the Horsell Common Preservation Society while the planting was completed by students from a local school, the HCPS and community members from the local Shah Jahan Mosque.

“There really aren’t many precedents of Islam in the English landscape and we thought that maybe there should be,” says Terra Firma’s director, the landscape architect Lionel Fanshawe. “We thought it was appropriate that the garden should be Islamic in style but that it should also include something of the English landscape.

“The garden deliberately has the traditional elements of an Islamic garden. You have the formal geometry and symmetry throughout, a central axis and it also uses water, the water of life, which moves down from an upper pool and you can hear that from the moment you enter the chhatri.”

Mr Fanshawe points to the design of the new garden’s memorial as evidence of this hybridity. Composed of four panels, one of which is engraved with the Islamic phrase “For God We Are and To God We Go” while the other three bear the names of the soldiers originally buried in the cemetery. “The memorial stone is made from Indian granite with Portland stone inlaid within it,” he said. “Engraving works far better on Portland stone but we still wanted to use an Indian stone so we ended up setting an English stone inside an Indian one, which we thought was very appropriate.”

For Mr Iqbal, who has a special responsibility for Woking borough council’s community engagement and interfaith initiatives, the cemetery’s contemporary relevance was one of the driving forces behind his push to transform a place that had become forgotten and neglected.

“We plan to use the cemetery as a site for an annual memorial service and for community events,” Mr Iqbal says.

“With Ramadan falling during the summer months for the next few years we are thinking of holding iftar events on the site and the army is also looking at the garden as a place where they can hold their diversity training for recruits and cadet officers.”

That outreach to the military is something that the Unknown Story’s Mr Mohammad has embarked upon with seminars at the UK’s elite royal military academy Sandhurst.

“I delivered a seminar to the officer cadets about the historic Muslim contribution to the First World War in the hope it would give them a more rounded understanding of what it means to be a Muslim,” the playwright says.

“To show that historically they are people who have fought side by side with the British armed forces and that they’re not just somebody who appears at the end of their gun.”

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