The Landscape Guide

Alternative garden conservation policies


Conservation movement - Garden conservation - Comparisions - Education - Garden historians - Data collection - Garden Archaeology - Data storage - Data processing - Conservation plans - Case study

'Restoration' is a much-abused word, especially when applied to gardens. Plainly, it means 'to return to its former condition'. But many people speak of 'restoring' a walled vegetable gardens by planting it with decorative plants. This may be a good use of the walled enclosure but it is a very bad use of the term ‘restoration’. Others speak of 'restoring' a Georgian garden when they have no information whatsoever as to what was there during the Georgian period. And there are far too many so-called 'knots' and 'parterres' which have no relationship to the manner in which such features were made at the period in question. The basic alternatives for a historic project are as follows:
1. Conservation
It is sometimes right to conserve the historic fabric exactly in its existing condition. For structures, this is possible. With plant material, it is not. In conserving an avenue, for example, one must chose between re-planting each tree as and when it dies or replacing the whole avenue as one operation.
2. Restoration
It is sometimes right to 'restore' a garden in the exact sense of putting it back to its condition at a previous date. This can be done using archaeological evidence, drawings, estate records, illustrations, traveler’s accounts and other information. But one has to be careful:
The Victorians thought it right to 'restore' arms and legs to Greek statues, like the Venus de Milo. Opinion has changed.
Gardens are subject to continual change. A decision needs to be made as to the target date for the restoration.
3. Re-creation
This is the term Dr Sylvia Landsberg uses for making medieval gardens. There are no records of gardens which were made in particular locations so that 'restoration' is always the wrong term for medieval gardens. But we have a great deal of knowledge of medieval gardening and it is possible to 're-create' examples. In some locations it is a very appropriate policy.
4. Creative Conservation
Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe used this term for his work on gardens with a number of historical layers. He recommended a policy of achieving a creative synthesis while conserving the best of each layer and, where appropriate, adding a new layer.

The above policy alternatives can be extrapolated as follows:

Policy choices relating to design styles

  • Re-design the garden in a defined style
  • Conserve historical features while maintaining the garden in its present form (‘freeze frame’)
  • Evolve the design while conserving historical features

Policy choices relating to garden compartments

  • Manage the whole garden as it was at a defined point in history
  • Manage physically separate parts of the gardens as they were at the points in history from which they date
  • Manage the garden so that features relating to historic periods overlie each other

Policy choices relating to planting design

  • Follow a strict principle with regard to the authenticity of plants used at different points in history
  • Adopt a relaxed approach to historic plants, concentrating more on quality than authenticity.

Policy choices relating to construction design

  • For historic features, use only the materials and fastenings in use at the time (eg soft brick and lime mortar for medieval gardens)
  • Adopt a relaxed approach to materials and fastenings (eg modern bricks and mortar)

Names for the above policy alternatives:

  • Freeze frame (self explanatory)
  • Evolution (allow a design to change, as most planting schemes must)
  • Compartments (apply separate policies to separate areas)
  • Creative Conservation (this is Geoffrey Jellicoe’s term for an overlay approach which extends into the future)

The above policies are not equally applicable to the different styles of garden design. While a medieval cloister garth can be maintained in a relatively stable condition, a romantic Gardenesque estate is inevitably subject to constant change.