MJ Abbott

Installation of new Toro irrigation system, incorporating fertigation

ABMC Cambridge American Cemetery


Key requirements: white headstones and green grass

Situated on the side of a hill three miles west of Cambridge and flanked by woodland, the American Cemetery is owned by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) which administers and maintains 24 permanent American World War II burial grounds.

The 30 acre site was established as a temporary cemetery in 1943 on land donated to the United States by Cambridge University and later selected to become the only permanent American World War II cemetery in the British Isles, before being formally dedicated in 1956.

It is the final resting place of American servicemen and women who died in the invasions of North Africa and France, whilst training in the UK and its surrounding waters, and as crew members of UK-based American aircraft.

Project challenges

Ultimate care needed to avoid damaging the headstones

The proportion of the site laid to turf is approximately 20 acres, which accounts for 75-80% of Grounds Manager Les Turner’s team’s workload. Six gardeners, a mason and a mechanic are responsible for all aspects of the site, including the 3,809 white marble headstones which extend row upon row in sweeping concentric arcs across the lawns.

With more than 60,000 visitors to the site each year, Les’s remit is clear.

“There are two key requirements here – white headstones and green grass”, he explained. “That might not sound like a tall order, but our working environment presents a unique set of challenges.”

“We have very heavy clay soil so moss is a problem for us, but we’re unable to use iron as it stains the headstones bright red. We rely mainly on cultural practices rather than chemicals to maintain healthy turf to avoid any damage to them. We scarify and mow, but we’re unable to use a strimmer as it also causes staining.”

Watering and feeding the turf around the headstones has also proved challenging.

Our approach

An innovative solution

Because of the American connection, the cemetery contacted Roger Lupton at Lely UK, the UK Toro Distributor, who suggested five companies that could tender for the contract.

Wiltshire-based contractor MJ Abbott was successful at tender, offering the best overall package and aftercare.

“We wanted a system that would last 30 or more years,” Les confirmed. “MJ Abbott have a superb reputation in golf and with more than 40 years’ experience in water management, we had confidence that they’d provide us with support for the lifetime of the system.”

At the heart of the new installation is the fertigation system which is installed alongside the pump station. The fertigation system is made up of a bunded fertiliser tank, a tank mounted mixer, a variable speed fertigation pump and a system controller which takes information from the system flowmeter, pH and EC sensors. When in operation, the fertiliser solution is pumped under pressure into the irrigation pump station discharge pipework where it is thoroughly mixed with the irrigation water by a bespoke static mixer within the pipework. The fertigation system flowrate is varied as required to match the current output of the pump station and the EC and pH settings made at the controller.

The original specification called for an ‘off the shelf’ pump station from a European manufacturer. MJ Abbott has always built its own pump stations, allowing the design to be fully customised to the site requirements. “After some negotiation, MJ Abbott persuaded us to give them freedom in this element of the system,” Les verified. “They selected pumps, VFDs and a pump station controller manufactured by Grundfos. The controller allows direct communication between the pump station and the irrigation control system and also allows MJ Abbott’s support staff to directly access the pump station via the internet.”

Project summary

Detailed design, thorough project planning and precise implementation

MJ Abbott’s scope of work included:

  • 80m³/hr pump station designed and fabricated by MJ Abbott, installed in the Chapel cellar
  • Fertigation system comprising injection pump, tank and mixing propeller
  • MJ Abbott carried out the design and implementation of the fertigation control system
  • Installation of mainlines pipework and replacement irrigation to cemetery areas, public walkways, flower border areas in the Cemetery Mall, West Mall, the Flagstaff and around the Chapel
  • The system utilises Toro irrigation equipment including the unique high trajectory Toro 754 rotor used among the headstones
  • The system includes Toro GDC Site Pro control system, weather station and radio remote control.

MJ Abbott continues to support and maintain the irrigation system.