The Landscape Guide

Examples of historic garden projects


Case study: Greenwich Park (London)

Greenwich Park has perhaps the finest site in East London: a great loop of the Thames to the north, a fine wooded hill to the south and a small river to the west. The hill provided a supply of fresh drinking water. The Celts lived here, the Romans built a temple on top of the hill. A palace in the Middle Ages and it became a Royal Palace. Then the park was enclosed. At first it was a hunting park. Then it became subject to long series of design changes. Today it is by far the most popular park in South East London. Clearly it is a place which deserves the most careful consideration. The following case study is intended to be no more than a sketch outline of the park’s history and the current issues using five types of illustrative material:

  • Old illustrations
  • Recent photographs
  • Historic plans
  • Park diagrams, based on the historic plans
  • Style diagrams, to illustrate the design ideas on which the historic plans were based

The above material is used as follows:
A: Park History: old illustrations, recent photographs, and historic plans are used, with short notes, to provide a descriptive account of the park’s design history
B: Park Analysis: the historic plans, park diagrams and style diagrams are used to provide an analytical account of the park’s design history
C: Park Management: a strategy is proposed (based on the principle of Creative Conservation)
D: Photographic Commentary: an additional photographic commentary is provided to relate the proposed management strategy to the current state of the park

Historical commentary  on Greenwich Park

 1530 1635 1670  1770 1898 2000

The Tudor palace of Placentia, with an enclosed garden, stood on the bank of the Thames at Greenwich. To its south, 200 acres land was imparked, in 1433, to keep deer. The palace had a renaissance garden. The painting below shows a view of Placentia from the deerpark. The photograph shows approximately the same view from One Tree Hill.

The Queens House was built at the meeting point of park and garden. Like an Italian villa, it had views of private space and of a natural landscape. After 1660, a shaft of space was projected into Greenwich Park and a remarkable diamond of avenues was laid across the escarpment.

After 1660, a shaft of space was projected into Greenwich Park and a remarkable diamond of avenues was laid across the escarpment with one of its apexes outside the park boundary. Le Notre designed the grass parterre inside the deerpark to the south of the Queen's house.

Greenwich Park was, comparatively, neglected during the eighteenth century. Le Notre’s grass parterre was neglected. Avenues lost their popularity and people came to admire serpentine spaces of the kind designed by Lancelot Brown. 


During the nineteenth century park managers further encouraged the evolution of Greenwich Park towards the 'landscape style' of Lancelot Brown. The avenues became public footpaths. The old deer park was transformed into a public park, separated from the Queen's House and the Royal Naval College. Municipal features were introduced in the areas marked by red dots.

A creative synthesis should be achieved between the best elements of each historical layer. This policy, of Creative Conservation, could extend to the addition of a new layer, taking its design inspirtion from the Greenwich Meridian and the Millennium Tree Line. A large compass was built on the line in the spring of 2000.

Photographic commentary on Greenwich Park

Trashy detailing (c1995, by the pond in the Flower Garden) has no place in a Royal Park

The enclosure round the Queen Elizabeth Oak used to have the only remnant of its hunting park vegetation. It was replaced by mowable grass to smarten things up for a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh.

The official map of Greenwich Park, as shown on all the sign boards, tells the visitor about facilities but not about character, vegetation or relief.

The detailing of this fence (c1995) is of a high standard. But why should One Tree Hill need a fence of this type? Even if someone did fall off the path, they would come to no harm.

Half-log retaining barriers are suitable for demonstration gardens in DIY stores, but not for Royal Parks

After the Great Storm of 1987, Greenwich Park had something of the wildness which a hunting park ought to have.

The following examples are likely to be of interest to those considering a garden restoration project:

Humayun's Tomb Garden
Colonial Williamsburg
Middleton Place
Het Loo
Lost Gardens of Heligan
Hampton Court Palace
The Tudor House Museum and Garden
Painswick Rococo Garden
Westbury Court Garden
Penshurst Place
Painshill Landscape Garden
Boscobel House
Alnwick Castle