The Landscape Guide

Historic Garden Restoration

Return to Garden Design Home Page

Guide to historic garden restoration, Garden Design

See blog posts on historic heritage gardens and restoration

'Restoration' is a much-abused word, 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 garden design, not garden restoration. Others speak of 'restoring' a Georgian garden when they have no information whatsoever as to what was there in Georgian times. And there are far too many so-called 'knots' and 'parterres' which have no relationship to the garden's actual history or even to the manner in which such features were made at the period in question. The alternatives for a historic project are as follows:

1. Conservation

It is sometimes right to conserve an historic fabric in its existing condition. For structures, this is possible. With plant material, it is more difficult. In conserving an avenue, for example, one must chose between re-planting each tree as it dies and 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, travellers accounts and any 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.
  • Most gardens have been 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 an inappropriate 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.

Cases in point

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

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

Further information on garden restoration