on Garden Restoration
- Head Gardener at Nonsuch
of the first things you need to come to grips with
in your own mind is that it simply isn't possible
to completely and utterly 'restore' a garden to 'how
it once was'. There is no garden in existence that
will have complete plans and planting schedules to
show you just how and when and where everything was
laid out and planted, from season to season and from
year to year. Some people do have landscape plans
from the past, and even if the very rare few of these
actually show plantings, they won't ever show what
was actually planted or how the garden evolved
over the course of a year, let alone ten.
plan can ever show you how a garden has evolved, or
how the owner altered plans the instant the designer
foolishly left the property. No garden designer's
plan is ever sacrosanct, and while they can show you
the designer's intention, they may not show you the
even if you have detailed plans of garden beds and
plantings tucked away somewhere, that is absolutely
no guarantee that the garden actually looked the way
the designer intended.
no single plan or garden journal is ever enough. The English
National Trust bemoans the fact that for the massive garden
restoration at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, where they have
three quarters of a million original documents
pertaining to the garden, they only have five percent
of what they actually need to restore the gardens precisely.
We're reminded of a story told us by a friend
deeply involved in restoration of heritage buildings.
She said, "People scrape back layers and
layers of paint to the original paint on the walls.
Then they repaint the room in that colour and
think what a wonderful job they've done. What
people don't realise, or ever think about, is
that the original colour was a major, ghastly
error, probably conceived by an architect who'd
had too much port the night before, and the room
was quickly repainted in an entirely different
colour. Now they're stuck with a room painted
in some frightful shade of lime green, and they
think they've 'restored' it to its original condition."
of us won't have a single thing. We don't care if you
have Gertrude Jekyll's
original garden plans from 1899 stuck away in the attic
- they won't be enough for you to 'restore the garden
to what it once was' because, sure as eggs, the garden
was never like what Jekyll intended, either. Everything
evolves and changes within the space of months, even Jekyll
National Trust refers to garden restorations as 'ecovations',
and while we like that term, we prefer 'visionary reflections'.
Visionary because the garden is being restored always
with an eye to the future, and they are restored according
to a single person's, or a group's, vision. Reflections,
because while they reflect the past (rather than recreating
it precisely) they also reflect both the house they surround
and the hopes and dreams of those restoring the garden.
In the end, you do the best you can do, but you end up
recreating, or restoring, to 'feel' more than to 'fact'.
Don't obsess too much over it (we have seen garden restorations
where the home owner has become fanatical about the placement
of every pavement stone, of every rose shrub, and the
acquisition of the exact same cultivar as was planted
in the exact same spot as it was one hundred years ago;
in the end we think that level of fanaticism is a waste
of time, because no one can know precisely what went where
because no plans ever replicate perfectly what actually
grew in the garden), but do what pleases you and what
pleases the house (i.e. what suits the house - we have
more of this in the article on what
style to pick for your garden).
gardens change and evolve continually, and it is completely
impossible to try and snatch at one frozen moment in time
and say, "This is what the restored garden should
be. Exactly and Precisely."
the end, of course, most of us don't have much to go on.
We don't have original Jekyll plans stuck away in the
attic, much less three quarters of a million documents.
But there are things you can do. Often a local council
or library will have photographs. They may even have some
original documents and/or plans. You just never know what
you might dig up in a local council or even local heritage
society or archive. Use what's in your community. (See
also the article on researching
your garden's history.)
always helps. You will never know what you will find
hidden away under several feet of soil. However unless
you either have an enormous amount of time, energy and
enthusiasm, or perhaps a friendly archeological team
on standby, this isn't one of the easiest ways to discover
your garden's lost history. More typically, this method
of exploration comes into its own once you have paid
for the expensive landscape architect, got all the plans
drawn, have contracted the even more expensive building
contractors, arranged the bank loan for the works, and
then you discover the half-ruined gothic sandstone summerhouse
under three feet of soil, right where you wanted to
have that perfect garden path, and which the local council
now demands be heritage listed, restored to as original
a state as possible, and at your own expense - and you
can drop the garden path idea, if you please.
philosophy has always been to restore to 'feel'. At
Nonsuch we are restoring and planting out a garden that
reflects the period, the house, and the plants the original
owners might have (as opposed to a definite would have)
planted out. At no point have we ever pretended to be
restoring to exactly what was, although as we dig out
further sections and discover more artifacts then we
do what we can. Also, in a nod to the fact that several
families have lived in this house over the past one
hundred and thirty years, we are trying to keep something
of each of those generations, be it a single plant or
a simple piece of garden landscaping.
to the the joys of heritage garden restoration.
also visit Old London Maps
on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.
© Sara Douglass Enterprises Pty Ltd 2006
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