Stupas, conservation, heritage, historic gardens in Ladakh


Heritage conservation is founded on a modernist view of the supremacy of reason and science over faith, religion and belief.

The foundations of these stupas were probably damaged by flood water before the roadway was built. Should conservation work be undertaken?

This leads to the conservation policy of detaching objects from their cultural contexts and freezing them in time. If the culture that produced the object has died, this may be justifiable. But a different policy is surely necessary when, as with Buddhism in Ladakh, the culture is alive.
Stupas are a case in point. They were made for religious reasons, to symbolise man’s place in space-time and the universe.

Stupa heritage conservation? Note the damage from vibrations or collisions

Building a stupa yields merit. Maintaining a stupa yields merit. Going clockwise around a stupa yields merit. Yet seeing a stupa decay is also instructive, as an illustration of impermanence, of anicca. With his last words, the Buddha reminded his followers that ‘All created things are impermanent’. So good actions are more important than any material or worldly goods. Similar considerations apply to the conservation of historic gardens, and much else.
Denis Byrne writes that ‘the life of a stupa is one of disintegration and accumulation’. I agree, and I also believe ‘that the life of a garden is one of disintegration and accumulation’. Only a few gardens and a few stupas should be managed like museum exhibits. Some stupas do memorialise the lives of holy men, but none were conceived as ‘sleeping places’ for the dead, which is the origin of the word ‘cemetery’. The Buddha was cremated and his ashes were scattered by dividing them among his followers.

Roadside stupa in Ladakh: is it good that so many people see the stupa? Or is it bad that the trucks damage stupas?

See also: Landscape Architects Association blog post on the design layout of stupa fields

Monty Don on the ‘Paradise Gardens’ of Islam

Monty Don is my favourite TV garden presenter but watching his BBC2 series on “””Paradise Gardens”””” has been a mixed pleasure. He has the talents to be a good garden historian. But he does not have the time. So the BBC should involve more experts. On Islamic gardens (as they are often, if misleadingly called) the best source of reference is Islamic Gardens and Landscapes by D. Fairchild Ruggles. She argues, convincingly, that before the sixteenth century the gardens Monty Don has visited (at speed) were NOT conceived as Paradise Gardens. The concept of paradise was found in the Qur’an but was not applied to real world gardens until tomb gardens came to be made in Mughal India. Retrofitting the paradise concept to earlier gardens is a flight of fancy of a kind the BBC should spurn. It makes no more sense than would a discussion of motor vehicles in eighteenth century gardens or in Roman gardens.

Monty is stronger on the planting of Islamic Gardens and it was a pleasure to hear him draw attention to the British planting of the Taj Mahal Garden  and Humayun’s Tomb Garden. He, or his research assistants, had the good sense to consult local experts. A British viceroy did his disappointing best to convert the Taj Mahal garden to the Gardenesque Style of  Victorian England. ‘George Nathaniel Viscount Curzon was really a very superior person’.

RSPB Lodge Sandy Wildlife Garden

Garden Finder entry for RSBP Lodge Garden


I don’t miss the Lodge Garden of the 1870s – because there is no reason to think its quality was exceptional. Nor do I miss the Lodge Garden of the 1930s, partly for the same reason and partly because the National Trust has made so many ‘improved Arts and Crafts’ gardens.

The RSBP Lodge bulding, near Sandy, was designed by Henry Clutton (above) for Arthur Wellesley Peel (below)

Photographers are able to find angles which make the Lodge Garden look National Trusty, which is the right thing to do near the house. But by taking a close look one can see that the RSBP has begun work on something more innovatory and more important. It is using its technical expertise to make a wildlife garden. There is every reason for the RSPB to know more about this and to do it an way that can be an inspiration to both amateur and professional gardeners. My suggestion is for the RSPB to make a garden that is beautiful, as well being habitat-rich. My video was taken in 2009 and I am sorry to criticise such a worthwhile effort. The Lodge Garden looks as though a group of conservation volunteers from a sixth-form college had been invited to have a bash at making a wildlife garden. There should now be a concentration on design quality.

Garden birds have been popular at least since the gardens of ancient China and ancient Rome

London has 13.2% of the UK’s population and the area of private gardens  in London  37,900 hectares. Gardens tend to be larger outside London so land devoted to gardens in the UK could be 300,000 ha. Comparing this with the area of the National Nature Reserves in the UK (94,400 hectares) it is obvious that the RSPB could do a lot for the UK’s bird population by creating a first class example of an Ornithological Garden for the Lodge. Birds were highly valued in ancient Chinese and Roman gardens.

Regent’s Park for garden visitors


Which is the best Royal Park for garden-loving visitors? The more I think about London’s Royal Parks, the better I like them. So I can’t give a favourite. But if a gardening friend was coming to London and said ‘I’ve only got time for one Royal Park – which should it be?’ I would say ‘Regent’s Park’. If an architect or urban designer asked me the same question I would give the same answer. The two most astonishing things about Regent’s Park, for me, are that no urban expansion scheme of the twentieth century equaled its quality – and that Modernist architects wanted to knock down the Nash terraces in the 1950s. The above video shows some of the things I love about Regent’s Park.

Wrest Park Garden is a stylistic hybrid – and all the better for it

The central axis of Wrest Park Garden is one of the best examples of the High Baroque Style of garden design in England

Wrest Park is not as well-visited as it deserves. The garden was restored in 2011 and, faced with the question ‘when should it be restored to?’, English Heritage took the sensible decision to restore separate parts of the garden to different dates: the Baroque section to the Late Baroque period, the perimeter canal section to the Serpentine Style of the  mid-eighteenth century, the Victorian section to the Mixed Style of the mid-nineteenth century.  Visitors may well find it necessary to consult the Gardenvisit.com style chart to understand the design. I agree with Tim Richardson that Wrest Park may appear in a future stylistic classification as a prime example of a ‘National Trust restoration’.