The Wills Memorial Building occupies a pivotal position at the top of busy Park Street. It makes a graphic link between the city and the University and was, therefore, chosen as a particularly appropriate location for the new centenary garden. The garden takes advantage of its central position to act as a space where students, staff and members of the public can sit and relax, talk together, study or read. It also acts as a focus for students, together with their families, on days when degree ceremonies take place in the Wills Memorial Building.
The garden was officially opened by historian, museum curator, writer, broadcaster and landscape designer Sir Roy Strong on 8 May 2009.
Anne de Verteuil is a garden designer with experience in both the private and public spheres. Her design for the centenary garden responded to the scale and presence of the adjacent buildings by being strongly architectural and geometric. The main surface is grass, but Pennant stone paving on the Wills Tower and Park Street sides adds formality to the garden’s entry points. Parallel with Park Street, a row of clear-stem sweet gum trees, Liquidamber styraciflua, 'Worplesdon', gives the garden a sense of enclosure and privacy, while still allowing views from street to garden and from garden to street. Large, clipped cubes of yew, Taxus baccata, and hawthorn, both the native Crataegus monogyna and the rarer, winter-flowering Crataegus monogyna 'Biflora' (also known as the Glastonbury Thorn), are arranged to reinforce the building's main axes and to break up the internal space, creating more intimate areas for seating.
The layout creates a tranquil atmosphere where the emphasis is on form, texture and contrasting shades of green. The magnolia tree (Magnolia denudata) planted off-centre will, in time, mature into a beautiful, low-branching specimen with a picturesque outline and spring flowers.
Anne de Verteuil was supported by the project team, led by Alan Stealey, Gardens and Grounds Manager, and plants consultant, Nicholas Wray, Curator of the University's Botanic Garden. The project co-ordinator was Tim Mowl, Professor of History of Architecture and Designed Landscapes in the Department of Archeology and Anthropology. He is Director of the MA in Garden History, and Director of the Institute for Landscape and Garden History.
Sarah Stewart-Smith and Peter Martin, who work near Redruth in Cornwall, carved the inscribed Cornish slate tablet which records the laying out of the centenary garden. The benches were commissioned from Martin Nichols, a local craftsman based in Radstock near Bath, and are made of green oak. The benches and the lighting for the garden were kindly provided by the University's Alumni Fund.