Andre Le Notre was the greatest landscape architect of the seventeenth century and, many would say, of any century. He completed only one design in the British Isles. It was for a parterre in Greenwich Park, London. The current proposal is to use this parterre for the 2012 Olympic Equestrian. Two conclusions surely follow:
1) the parterre garden and its periphery should have a full rescue archaeology investigation before any work of any kind begins
2) the Le Notre parterre garden should be fully restored if the Equestrian Event takes place here, because horses and stadia damage land.
LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games, say:
– the ground is to be ‘improved’ and strengthened
– to soften the ground there will be some decompaction/aeration
– as part of recovery programme there will be reseeding or returfing
– tree roots would be protected with materials such as woodchip
What will improvement, strengthening, decompaction and aeration do the archaeological remains? They are no way to treat a site of Grade I Garden Archaeological Importance. The first step should be a non-invasive geophysical survey using a magnetometer. This can map buried building foundations (eg of fountain basins) and can even plot the location of pre-historic paths in certain circumstances. The Le Notre parterre was cultivated during the Second World War but (1) the cultivation is unlikely to have been deep (2) it may well have been limited to the flat area of the parterre (3) evedince may survive below the parterre and near Le Notre’s banks, which are the areas most likely to be damaged by the equestrian competition arena.
Let us hope English Heritage supports the call for an archaeological investigation before further damage is done.