Partnership Activities

NOW AVAILABLE - Far East POW (FEPOW) Bamboo Garden Audio Trail

Merle Hesp, widow of FEPOW Harry Hesp, in the bamboo gardenA 20-minute, 7-track audio trail is now available to listen to when you visit the FEPOW Bamboo Garden at Ness Gardens. The commentary is interspersed with horticultural information about the tropical and historically-linked planting scheme, audio clips from oral history interviews with 3 FEPOW – a dentist, an artist and an injured soldier – and the voices of pupils from Pensby High School for Girls who collaborated on the creation of the garden.

This new feature garden is situated in the conservatory attached to the visitor centre and is free to view.

LSTM/Pensby/Ness collaboration

In the spring and summer of 2010 the University of Liverpool's School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), the Botanical Gardens at Ness and Pensby High School for Girls collaborated in a unique project which resulted in the awarding of a Silver Gilt Medal at the 2010 Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Show at Tatton Park in Cheshire. But for all those involved in this project at Pensby High School for Girls, the greater prize is that "their" show garden has now been recreated at Ness as one of the attractions.

Bamboozery at Ness GardensLSTM and Pensby High School for Girls pupils in Wirral have worked together to introduce aspects of WWII Far East prisoners of war (FEPOW) history to the secondary curriculum across a wide range of subjects. This work is part of a two-year, Heritage Lottery-funded, FEPOW History education project which started in December 2009.

It all started when, in February 2010, Ness Gardens were asked if they could help by providing bamboo sticks for a Design Technology project as part of the Year 9 FEPOW History Study Day at the school. The girls would be creating simple keepsakes as one of the activities and they needed bamboo sticks to paint with and to create simple picture frames.

Learning about how bamboo was used by FEPOW really caught the imagination of the girls: this simple grass literally saved lives in the POW camps across South East Asia between 1942-1945. Grown throughout all areas of captivity, easy to work with and quick to regenerate, bamboo was used in dozens of practical ways: to make huts, utensils – scoops, cups and even bedpans for the sick, drainage systems, medical equipment including intravenous needles. And of course as food, bamboo shoots are both edible and nutritious.

A week after delivering the bamboo trimmings, Ness Gardens curator, Paul Cook, having been curious about the Second World War history associated with bamboo, invited the school to assist him in the design and creation of Ness Gardens' entry for the RHS Tatton Park Show in July. The plot measured 6 metre x 4 metre and was to be entered in the "Back to Back Garden" section of the show.

In May, the whole of Year 7 visited Ness for a day's activity based on ideas for the show garden. The day started with a brief introduction to FEPOW History during which the girls heard extracts from FEPOW oral history interviews from LSTM's collection. The group then split into two, one half working outside with bamboo and willow sculptor, Russell Kirk, while the other half did creative writing based on various animal stories they had heard from the interviews. The girls had to imagine they were an animal in the jungle when these POW camps were created. Each one had to start with the phrase: "And the [animal] said:..." The groups swapped over after lunch allowing all the girls to take part in both activities.

Year 7 girls holding up Year 9 artwork that was incorporated into the FEPOW Bamboo gardenFrom the creative writing work short extracts were later selected to create special "bamboo leaves" which were scattered on the ground among the stands of bamboo in the garden. Some of the writing the pupils did was profound, insightful and very moving. In such a short space of time they had listened and then responded to the history presented to them.

On 21 July one of the early visitors to the show garden was, 92-year-old Tom Boardman, an ex-FEPOW and veteran of the notorious Thailand-Burma railway camps. Both Tom and members of the public were captivated by the girls' bamboo leaves. People asked where they could get hold of the work, could it be shared?

LSTM's FEPOW History education project director, Professor Geoff Gill said, 'This two year education project is a significant development. For over 60 years LSTM has undertaken both clinical and research work with FEPOW. It is encouraging to see how creatively the pupils have responded to what they are learning.'

The display garden at the RHS Show Tatton 2010Head of English, Mrs Jill Thompson says, 'The opportunity to listen to surviving FEPOW has brought history to life for our pupils. Their work reflects how important this has been for them. The core message, the need for future generations to learn from the past, was powerfully reinforced whilst also celebrating the remarkable capacity of the human spirit to endure terrible suffering.'

When the garden was completed at Tatton Park it illustrated the beauty and variation within the genera of plants classed as Bamboos. The added attraction was how it incorporated the story of Bamboo as an important part of the FEPOW story and as an economic plant. The collaboration between the Ness, LSTM and Pensby set this garden apart from the many other show gardens. View the RHS website's page about the garden, including photographs and a 360° video.

The Bamboo Garden at Ness GardensThere was more material than space at Tatton allowed and the FEPOW Bamboo Garden is now in place at Ness Gardens, free to the public to visit and walk around, situated in the Conservatory attached to the Visitor Centre.

In February 2011 a pocket-sized booklet entitled, "Taking a Leaf... from history" was created, bringing together the creative work of the Year 7 pupils of Pensby High School for Girls and the FEPOW they have been learning about.

It is sponsored by Ness Gardens, LSTM and Antalis McNaughton and is on sale at Ness, priced £1.50 (plus p&p by post).