Planting Poppies at The Tower

From the moment I first heard about the Poppies Installation at the Tower of London, I loved the idea.  As I explained when the Queen’s Guard invited me to the Tower of London at the start of this month, to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the First World War, and the lives lost in the Great War, a ceramic poppy will be planted in the Tower moat for each of the 888,246 British soldiers who died.

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The art installation is called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, and is the work of ceramic artist Paul Cummins, and stage designer Tom Piper.  Every single poppy has been handmade, by a group of volunteers led by Cummins, which means every poppy is unique – like the fallen soldiers they represent.

When I first heard about the installation, and that you could go online to buy one of the poppies, I went on to the Historic Royal Palaces website, and realised you could also volunteer to plant the poppies.  I did actually try to arrange a date for my trip to plant poppies, however I couldn’t find a suitable boy … however I thought I would still review it as a date idea for you guys, as it’s a unique and worthy opportunity, which will be continuing throughout September and October.

And so today I headed to The Tower of London for the afternoon poppy planting shift. We were really blessed with the weather – the sun was blazing – and apparently this has been the first really sunny day that volunteers have been working in the moat.

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I queued for about twenty minutes with the 100 or so other volunteers, and was then given a bright red VOLUNTEER t-shirt, and a commemorative badge to wear while I worked in the moat.  We all then watched the following video, to give context to what we were about to do, and where the poppies had come from.

After we’d been briefed with a few simple safety instructions, we headed out into the moat.  As you can see from the pictures, the sight was awe-inspiring.  The poppies come in three heights, and the sea of flowers is both beautiful and also incredibly humbling, when you realise each one translates to a life lost.

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I had met another girl volunteering on her own in the queue, and so we paired up.  The job involved two stages – firstly building the stems, and then hammering the stems into the ground, and topping them with poppies.

Realising everyone would want to plant the poppies, we started on stems, and waited for another pair to switch with us.  The stems were easy to build, but it was quite physical work.  I wouldn’t recommend it if you have back or knee problems, and I would definitely recommend wearing high-waisted trousers, as there were LOTS of tourists staring down at us while we worked, and taking photos.  (And yes, there were a fair few builders’ bums on show!)

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The atmosphere was really relaxed, and fun.  Everyone appreciated the gravity of what we were doing, and the sunshine helped ensure spirits were high.  I genuinely think this would make a really good date, because the nature of the work, in pairs, meant you could have good, private, conversations with a date, and really feel like you were doing something worthwhile and once-in-a-lifetime. It felt like a real privilege to be standing in the moat, and involved with such a beautiful, inspiring project.

I wouldn’t, however, suggest this as a pulling opportunity, if you’re a single girl!  Most of the volunteers on my shift were female, or elderly couples!

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The second stage of the process – planting the poppies – was a bit more visually rewarding than making the stems, though it was still quite tough.  I actually cut myself on one of the ceramic poppies!  It’s incredible how different they all look, but they really are beautiful.  Myself and Charlotte planted around 50 poppies between the two of us, and there was a real sense of achievement when we stared down at the area where we were working later that afternoon, even if we couldn’t identify exactly which ones we’d planted!

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You can still volunteer to plant poppies, most days between now and the end of October.  When I volunteered, the weekends seemed less busy than the week days, which I was surprised by!  (If you do decide to go on a date, make sure you both book at the same time, as places on each shift are limited and can be quite hard to come by!)

Be warned, you won’t look your hottest in a bright red t-shirt, gardening gloves, and plastic protective glasses, but I like to think any date worth their salt won’t judge you on that (mainly as they will be wearing them too!)

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The shifts are 3 and a half hours long, though we were dismissed about an hour early, because our teams had planted all our poppies.  There are around 100 volunteers in each session, and two sessions each day.  I really couldn’t recommend the opportunity more – either on your own, or with friends or a date.  It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of something extremely beautiful, and important to our nation.  And your reward for sparing a few hours of your day, is the opportunity to take photos of the Tower Poppies, from a vantage point very few people get.

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For details of how to volunteer, click on this link.  You can buy one of the poppies for £25 here, proceeds go to related charities.

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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