Dixon on...A changing landscape for trust's gardens

The National Trust owns fantastic gardens. They chart English gardening's evolution from early enclosed knot gardens through parklands to the intimacies of suburban owner-occupied plots and all in-between.

Each garden is a huge individual asset but collectively they are a priceless testament to Great Britain’s centuries-old leadership in gardening and garden history. Vitally, they were holistically managed by plantsmen with vision, knowledge and expertise.

The gardens’ advisers such as Graham Thomas and John Sales provided cohesion. Each garden is an individual but they need oversight by horticulturists who understand their part in this nation’s artistic fabric.

Regrettably, it seems all that has changed. Management consultants have dictated that the gardens are now run by local property managers. If the head gardener wants advice from the gardens’ advisers this is now "a chargeable service".  Each garden is now on a par with the restaurant, shop, car parking and public services. They become part of the drive for increasing visitor numbers. Gardens are events centres, forming popularist backdrops for foody festivals, pseudo-historic re-enactments and face-painting carnivals.

As a result, the head gardener is in danger of losing contact with his or her peer group. It will be argued that they can use social media, emails and the web instead. Valuable as those tools are, they do not replace for one instant the annual face-to-face visitation and frank discussions with horticulturists of international stature.

Those and the associated national conferences boosted confidence, encouraged initiative and ensured against mistakes. Each landscape, large or small, enjoys its own presence. In the older ones particularly, these had political, religious and social meaning. Felling a tree or diverting a path can obliterate that presence. The gardens’ advisers had the scholastic stature to prevent such an outcome.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international


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