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Garden Features

Historic parks and gardens include many different features. The repair and restoration of individual features needs to be tackled carefully to protect their historic interest and that of the overall garden.

This page covers:

Lakes and water features

Lakes and other water features are often the major design feature of historic parks and gardens. The care and management of these features is often complex and costly. Specialist advice is often needed.

Owners of large lakes, have statutory safety responsibility under the Reservoirs Act 1975 and the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 as a flood caused by the failure of a dam could result in loss of life or damage to property. We are updating our 2013 guidance Historic parks and gardens and changes to reservoir safety legislation. The Government web page sets out the latest requirements.

The Environment Agency’s Risk of Flooding from Reservoirs web site includes an interactive  map to show areas which could be flooded if a large reservoir were to fail and its water released.

Our guidance note Moats, ponds and ornamental lakes in the historic environment explains the archaeological value of these features.

Sherborne Castle, Dorset
Sherborne Castle, Dorset © Historic England

Rockwork and grottoes

Rock gardens or rockeries have a long history. They are either made of natural rocks or man-made rockwork such as Pulhamite.

The three generations of Pulham & Sons created elaborate rock gardens and ornaments like fountains and dipping wells. Our technical advice note  ‘Durability Guaranteed’ explores the history of Pulhamite rockwork and its conservation. Repair and restoration needs to be sensitively handled to conserve the stratification, and appropriate planting researched. The conservation approach set out in the guidance will also be applicable for other types of historic rock gardens. 

More information about on-going research is available at the Pulham Legacy website.

Grottoes are another form of rockwork. Many registered parks and gardens include fantastic grottoes. Two examples of recent grotto repair projects:

Further reading on rockwork and grottoes:

Pulhamite rockwork alongside the road in Ramsgate
Pulhamite rockwork alongside the road in Ramsgate © Historic England


Grotto at Old Wardour Castle
Grotto at Old Wardour Castle © Historic England

Garden paths

Often overlooked, paths are an important part of the historic character of a garden or park. Repairs and improvements need to take into account the historic design, construction and surface materials of the paths if their character is to be retained. Further advice on path and street surfacing is available in our guidance:  

Hoggin paths

Many historic garden paths are made of hoggin, a self-binding, gravel path surface. They were made from locally-sourced gravels and aggregates. The paths wear well, and can be readily repaired. The Sustrans guidance includes advice on self-binding surfaces, suppliers and costs and the BBC offer advice on constructing hoggin paths.

Cobbled paths

Cobbled paths are often a feature in historic gardens in the Picturesque style. The National Trust's A La Ronde in Devon is a good example. The Conservation Directory includes advice on cobbles, setts and historic townscapes. Cobbled paths are also a notable feature of Devon churchyards. Historic England with SPAB  undertook trials to investigate best practice for their maintenance and repair. Watch our 12 minute film on maintaining cobbled paths to see our findings.

Asphalt and tarmacadam, concrete and aggregates paths

In the second half of the 19th century asphalt and tarmacadam were often used in public parks for drives and paths so these path materials may be part of the original Victorian design. The Victorians also used concrete and aggregates as an alternative to gravels. However ‘concreting a path’ meant binding materials into gravel to achieve a firm surface.

A brick path in a flower garden
A brick path in a flower garden © Historic England Archive

Metal gates and railings

Metal gates and railings for historic parks and gardens were usually made from wrought iron rather than modern equivalents like mild steel, including modern hand-made forged metal work. Specification of repair and/or replacement of railings and gates need careful consideration if the historic character is to be maintained. There are various guidance publications on the design, repair and maintenance of wrought iron gates and railings. Examples include:



Published 1 March 2012

This volume, Metals, deals with the conservation of a group of materials that have been used in buildings for everything from structural components and fixings to weatherproofing, repairs, and decoration.


View of Albert Park Gates, Middlesborough, North Yokshire
View of Albert Park Gates, Middlesborough, North Yokshire © Historic England Archive

Repair of building materials in gardens

Our Practical Building Conservation series provides detailed guidance on:

Related publications of interest

Garden and Park Structures

Garden and Park Structures

Published 4 December 2017

A guide to outline the selection criteria used when listing garden and park structures.



Published 22 May 2012

A guide to outline the selection criteria used when scheduling archaeological sites associated with gardens.

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    Lakes and Water Features

    Lakes and water features: Lakes are often the major design feature of historic parks & gardens. Their care and management is often complex and costly.