9/11 Memorial Grove Symbolism

The Fairfax County Memorial Grove was the first U.S. memorial commemorating the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to be built on public space involving federal and local government collaboration with the community in an area where residents were personally affected by the tragedy through loss of life or participation in rescue efforts. It was designed by National Park Service landscape architect and Fairfax County Tree Commissioner Michael McMahon.

The location on the grounds of the Fairfax County Government Center offers a setting that is equally representative of all residents of Fairfax County because it is the center of activity that defines Fairfax County and its people. The site, located on a ridge above a lake with the Government Center in the background, is in a meditative setting in the shadows of our center of government. The grove is in an area that provides an opportunity for contemplation. The close proximity to water is a powerful metaphor within the design. The layout of the garden reaches out and draws one’s attention to the water’s edge, reminding us of its life giving properties: the ability of water to sooth and calm and its power to heal.

9/11 Memorial Grove
9/11 Memorial Grove (Photo/Fairfax County)

The design of the commemorative plaza within the grove is characterized by the simple geometric form of the circle. The circle has a strong correlation with the cyclical nature of life as a nurturing and protective place that provides security and comfort and reminds us of our desire to draw near and embrace life following Sept. 11, 2001.

In the construction of the commemorative plaza, we brought aggregate stone from the water’s edge and thus connect the garden to its setting overlooking the lake. Aggregate, a rough stone made smooth by its interaction with water over time, bares witness to the healing process that we are now experiencing.

The diversity of plant material chosen reminds us of who we are as a people and that collectively we come together out of compassion to build a beautiful garden. A patriotic theme is evident in the white flowers of the dogwood trees, the red berries of the hollies, the blue needles of the Colorado Blue Spruce, the brilliant red fall foliage of the Black Gum trees, the flowers of the Redbud trees and the white bark of the River Birch.

Three Colorado Blue Spruce trees stand tall adjacent to the commemorative plaza as reminders of the events at the World Trade Center in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. A large planting of ornamental grass is reflective of the field in Pennsylvania. Planted throughout the garden, in a grove of Virginia native plants that provides us with connection to our Virginia cultural and natural heritage, are the Fairfax County Tree, the American Holly; the Virginia State Tree and Virginia State Flower, the Flowering Dogwood, which will forever stand as reminders of what took place here in Virginia, at the Pentagon.

A garden, by nature, is not static. Rather, it is a living, dynamic entity that is continually growing and changing. Its beauty is dependent upon being nurtured and cared for. It is hoped that this ordinary place, transformed into a contemplative garden and grove, from this day forward will provide an opportunity for further nurturing and healing and an understanding that goodness and light will always triumph over the darkness of night.

Copyright (pending) 2005, Michael J. McMahon

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