already covered part of this in the first article on Visionary
Reflections, and we are assuming that you are not
among the fortunate few to have the original Victorian
plans squirreled away in your attic, nor have a few score
boxes of head gardener's notes tied precariously to the
rafters in the stable block, either of which would give
you some idea, at least, of what once was.
probably have what most of us start with - an old house
with a nightmarish jungle attached, and a vision of somehow
restoring the gardens to something approaching what once
not too much else.
are things you can do.
mentioned is a trip to your local council or archive.
They are very likely to have photographs and documentation,
and they may even have original drawings and plans of
the house. They are always worth a visit. While at the
local council offices, check regarding any planning permissions
you may need, as also whether or not any plants, or perhaps
even the entire garden, is heritage listed. (We once had
a tree heritage listed on a former Victorian garden we
restored and which caused endless problems with the council
- the tree was not just dangerous, it was deadly, but,
oh!, the paperwork involved in being able to remove it!)
to your neighbours. The local community, the people about
you, can give you valuable input. Gossip, rumor, innuendo
all helps. They can remember trees and who lived in the
house, and perhaps even what the name of the local gardener
was. They may also like to get involved, and that's a
good thing, too. Your house and garden, particularly if
they are very old, belong to the community as much as
toyou. Perhaps not in a legal sense, but very definitely
in the emotional sense.
down everyone still alive who has ever lived in the house.
Pester them for memories, photos, whatever they can give
you (but pester nicely, of course ... a good devonshire
tea with champagne on the side always works well!) We
were remarkably fortunate - one day someone knocked at
the back door in the first few months we were at Nonsuch
and it was a woman who had been born in the house fifty
years earlier. From her we meet her older siblings, saw
photos, revelled in memories - not only of the garden
as it was when they'd known it, but of what had been here
when they'd arrived during World War II.
with past occupants will also change what you decide to
do with the garden. There was a swing in Nonsuch's garden
we thought would be sure to go, but now, knowing the memories
attached to that swing, it will be staying. Ditto the
sad gooseberry bush in one corner. Originally destined
for the compost heap, it will now be saved and replanted
elsewhere. You'll be getting far more than 'what the garden
once looked like' from past occupants of the house. You'll
be getting treasured memories as well, and they are priceless
in the process of rebuilding the garden. Don't trash the
memories. Reincorporate them into the garden.
the local art gallery, particularly if it stocks period
paintings of your area. We were (very pleasantly) shocked
to be strolling through a Tasmanian art gallery one day
to find a mid-Victorian oil painting of a vast Tasmanian
landscape ... and Nonsuch House sitting pretty and newly
built in one corner of it! We subsequently found five
or six old oil paintings with Nonsuch somewhere in them.
It didn't give us much of an idea, but it gave us some.
Books on the history of our area also included old photographs
of the house.
documentary evidence you don't need original house plans
or the letters and journals of head gardeners. If you
think laterally you can often come upon useful information
in the most unlikely of places.
your house dates from at least the nineteenth century,
then ordnance surveys of the later nineteenth century
can have an absolute wealth of information about your
garden on them. Often drawn on a sale of twenty-five inches
to the mile, they showed just about everything, and if
your garden was larger than a pocket handkerchief, and
it was included on an ordnance survey, then the garden
is very likely have been surveyed itself. The UK has an
Ordnance Survey office, or you can contact Alan
Godfrey maps, or an archive, or even ebay, and find
a map of your area. Most other western countries also
have similar maps available - do some research and you'll
be amazed what you can find.
older houses yet there are detailed maps about. Cartography
took enormous leaps forward in the eighteenth century
and, again using the UK as an example, many major urban
areas have incredibly detailed maps available - gardens
are often shown. For London you can check out Richard
Horwood's Plan of 1792 - 1799.