But months of archaeological investigations and clearance later, and Bushy Park's dramatic water garden is starting to take shape as part of a £7.2m project to improve the vast green space near Hampton Court Palace.
The original water gardens were created in 1710 by Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, to embellish his residence at Upper Lodge. And although the project is only around half-way done since work started in February, it is already possible to see the outlines of the shape of the pools as they would have looked three centuries ago.
Park manager for Bushy Park and the Longford River Ray Brodie said simply finding evidence of the water gardens was a challenge: "We had to look at some very old paintings and the odd sketch because there were no plans for this."
Environmental planning and design firm Land Use Consultants was appointed as architect for the restoration, and the work is being carried out by English Landscapes.
English Landscapes contracts manager Martin Wiles said it had been a collaborative process throughout the project.
"It is not a 'them and us' scenario; we all sit down together to discuss ideas and it has turned into a think-tank," he explained. "Land Use Consultants understands the challenges we will be faced with."
The restoration plans include building a wooden footbridge between the water gardens and the recently restored Brewhouse, currently separated by the Longford River. The two pools and the cascade will be restored to their original shapes, the water supply reconnected and public access encouraged with signage and interpretation boards explaining the history of the gardens.
Wiles added: "All the elements of this project have been challenging because of the unknown factor involved. But when it is completed there will be landscaping around the outside of the pools, with grass and trees planned."
After World War Two the gardens were used by the Ministry of Defence for research into submarine technology, and during clearance old detonators were found in the ponds, Brodie revealed. Other finds included a brick path running below the cascade.
"We wondered why they had put that in. We think it was there to stop erosion because the bottom of the pond was puddled clay."
Although construction is likely to be completed by the autumn, the gardens will not open to the public until next summer. This is to allow time for the soft landscaping to settle and planting to take place.
Bushy Park assistant parks manager Bill Swan added: "The site was a mess of self-seeded willows and the edging and levels of the pond were very different."
Restoration of the park also includes work on the Arethusa (Diana) Fountain and the Woodland Gardens, as well as new welcome and education centres.
"There will be nothing else like these water gardens in London," said Brodie.