New ideas for historic gardens

Gardeners share views on reconciling tradition and innovation in heritage estate restoration work.

Professional Gardeners'  Guild Seminar discussed the need to change visitors' expectations - image: HW
Professional Gardeners' Guild Seminar discussed the need to change visitors' expectations - image: HW

Innovation and garden design should have a place in the management of historic gardens, professional gardeners have agreed.

Industry representatives attending the Professional Gardeners' Guild seminar at the Historic Buildings Parks & Gardens Event in Westminster last week discussed the issue of whether to restore gardens to a historic plan or use a new design.

English Heritage head of gardens John Watkins said it was important to decide the best approach to a garden in each case. "You have to identify the significance of the place," he added. "What is important and what story are you trying to tell?

"If there is not enough information for restoration, you need to employ a designer. You have to demonstrate the need for a new design. Does it need a new design or better maintenance? Would a new design detract from or enhance the garden?"

Holker Hall owner Lord Cavendish said innovation made more sense than restoration but the approach did not mean being disrespectful to history.

"Gardens are used differently now to how they were in the past," he said. "They are open all year round and the public want different things. Also, we benefit from scientific advances in gardening and a discerning public. Some gardens will be lost, but gardens are and should be ephemeral."

He added that he took a gradual approach to developing the garden. "We wouldn't take public money for a big scheme and we can't afford one ourselves."

Myddelton House head gardener Andrew Turvey said he was taking a similar approach and that new developments meant the garden had something new to bring in visitors.

"We have plans for each year and we are trying to increase our profile in the media and with the public," he added.

Preserving tradition

"Gardens have to have regular marketability. A restoration might happen gradually because of funding limitations, but it means that when something happens it can be marketed afresh. One restoration is not enough and you need a garden that is evolving and doing things. With a restoration, when it's done, it's done. In a developing garden you are preserving the tradition of it developing."

Stephen Anderton, gardening correspondent, the Times.


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