Last summer, Ipswich Town Football Club faced the delicate task of replacing the pitch at Portman Road while honouring all those fans whose ashes had been interred at the stadium. Then they had the idea of creating a Garden of Remembrance, relocating the original soil from the pitch and providing a peaceful space where supporters can visit and reflect.

Notcutts, the national family run garden centre group based in Woodbridge, were invited to bring the Garden of Remembrance to life, a particularly special honour for Notcutts’ plant buyer and lifelong Town fan Stuart Andrews.

'I’ve been an avid ITFC fan for 45 years, ever since my dad took me to my first game aged 7,' says Stuart. 'Now I take my eldest daughter and still enjoy the game every week. It was a true privilege to be involved in the Garden of Remembrance and I hope we’ve created something that fans can be proud of.'

Great British Life: Stuart AndrewsStuart Andrews (Image: Notcutts)

The garden was designed by an architect, working alongside ITFC, and it centres around stone planters which will be engraved with the names of all those whose ashes were scattered on the original pitch. Notcutts’ role was to design the planting and creatively reflect ITFC’s vision.

'Once ITFC had sensitively moved the original pitch soil to the new garden,' explains Stuart, 'our first task was to bring a huge haul of topsoil on site ready for planting. It took our team of three people using a mini-crane over two days.' A team from Notcutts Woodbridge centre was brought in for two days of planting.

'We all wanted the garden to honour ITFC’s blue and white. With a launch date set for November (Remembrance Sunday 2023), it made a huge difference in what plants were used to bring in colour and ensure the garden looked its best straight away in autumn.

'We over-planted in the style of an RHS Chelsea Flower Show exhibit with extensive shrubs to fill any seasonal gaps. ITFC requested three 12 feet tall silver birch trees. It was a challenge to bring them in to an urban environment and ensure they were planted with enough depth to thrive, but they look brilliant and they add real scale to the garden, mirroring other birch trees nearby.

'One of my favourite plants we chose for the garden is Festuca Glauca ‘Intense Blue’ – a lovely soft blue grass with a perfect name to honour the ITFC supporters whose ashes are within the garden. We also planted Skimmia and Hellebore to bring winter-flowering colour. Evergreens are essential for the garden to look great year-round, so we chose Ilex Crenata ‘Glory Gem’, aptly-named and pruned into a football shape.

Great British Life: Once a Blue, always a BlueOnce a Blue, always a Blue (Image: Notcutts)

'The team and I are visiting the garden again this spring to plant more seasonal flowering varieties, which will keep the garden looking wonderfully blue and white through the summer. Agapanthus is a favourite for its bright blue hue, spherical flower heads and striking tall stems.

'Football and plants are the two biggest things in my life, so the Garden of Remembrance was a really special project for me, personally. Throughout my 37-year career in horticulture I have loved discovering new varieties and planting styles, and it’s fantastic to share that knowledge with gardeners and to demonstrate creative planting through community projects like this.'

The ITFC Garden of Remembrance is on the corner of the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand and Cobbold Stand at the Portman Road ground, and is open for visitors on matchdays and throughout the week. Stuart and the team welcome all plant and gardening enquiries at Notcutts Woodbridge Garden Centre, Ipswich Road, Woodbridge.