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
- Rockwork and grottoes
- Garden paths
- Metal gates and railings
- Repair of building materials in gardens
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.
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:
- St Giles House, Somerset which was shortlisted in 2015 for Historic England’s Angel Awards ‘Best Craftsmanship Employed on a Heritage Rescue’ category. It is featured in our Best Craftsmanship Employed on a Heritage Rescue video (at 2:11minutes).
- Pope’s Grotto, London Historic England helped the costs of preparing restoration plans so that the Preservation Trust could apply for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
Further reading on rockwork and grottoes:
- Reginald Farrer’s Rock Garden, Clapham, North Yorkshire: Analytical Survey and Assessment (2016) Historic England research report
- The British Rock Garden in the Twentieth Century (2011) Royal Horticultural Society Lindley Library Occassional Paper
- Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy (2012) by Claude Hitchin
- Shell Houses and Grottoes (Shire Library) (2001) by Hazelle Jackson
- A Rage for Rock Gardening: The Story of Reginald Farrer, Gardener, Writer and Plant Collector (2003) by Nicola Shulman
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:
- Easy Access to Historic Landscapes
- Streets for All
- The Conservation Directory provides information on manufacturers and suppliers of traditional and bespoke brick pavers for the restoration and repair of historic paths, pavements and yard surfaces.
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 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.
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:
- Historic Environment Scotland’s The Maintenance of Iron Gates and Railings and Maintenance and Repair Techniques for Traditional Cast Iron
- City of Westminster’s Railings in Westminster: A Guide to their Design, Repair and Maintenance
- Cheltenham Borough Council’s The Conservation and Renewal of Historic Ironwork
Repair of building materials in gardens
Our Practical Building Conservation series provides detailed guidance on: