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:
- Rockwork, rock gardens and grottoes
- Garden paths
- Metal gates and railings
- Repair of building materials in gardens
- Also visit Lakes and Water features page
Rockwork, rock gardens and grottoes
Rockwork, rock gardens or rockeries have a long history. They are often important features in public parks as well as private gardens. They are either made of natural rocks or man-made rockwork:
- Decorative displays of stones and other attractive objects such as crystals, shells and fossils
- Large scale geologically convincing man-made rock outcrops and cascades
- Specialist garden structures to grow arctic and alpine plants
Brent Elliott’s Royal Horticultural Society’s Occasional Paper The British Rock Garden in the Twentieth Century (2011 ) Includes more on the history of rock gardens. By the 19th century several businesses and nurseries emerged offering to construct rock gardens. One of the most well-known is Pulham & Sons which created elaborate artificial rock work and ornaments like fountains and dipping wells. The Pulham Legacy website provides lots of more information about Pulham & Sons and where their rock work and garden features survive including many public parks.
Reginald Farrer, a leading garden writer in the early 20th century, trialled his ideas about rock gardens at his North Yorkshire home. Our research report Reginald Farrer's Rock Garden, Clapham, North Yorkshire: Analytical survey and assessment (2016) looks at this garden. The project was carried out to help inform the repair of the rock features and the management of the garden.
Grottoes are another form of rockwork. Many registered parks and gardens include fantastic grottoes. Two examples of 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
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. 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 researched the design and layout of these paths and how to look after them and improve accessibility. The project findings are also useful for garden paths. Watch our 12 minute film on maintaining cobbled paths.
- Keep paths clear of leaves and debris. Brush regularly with a stiff broom but take care not to dislodge stones.
- Keep paths free of weeds. Moss and grass usually do not undermine the cobble path structure however their growth can help other weeds establish. Remove any seedlings of woody plants, preferably by hand, when the seedlings are still small. Minimise the use of pesticides for environmental protection reasons.
- Manage trees and shrubs alongside cobble surfaces so they do not shade or impede air flow. This should help reduce the growth of algae, mosses and weeds which can make the path surfaces slippery.
- Keep drains and gullies along the path free of debris.
- Replenish loose jointing material by brushing in dry subsoil (not top soil) mixed with gritty sand and then watering to help consolidate the new material.
- The path edging stones or kerbs are important to maintaining the structure of the cobble path. Take care not to remove earth or turf alongside these kerbs.
- Patches in cobbled paths can be readily repaired using appropriate materials. Don’t be tempted to re-bed them in cement mortar or to cover them with concrete or asphalt.
Before you undertake any work, check whether the path is listed or in a Conservation Area and talk to your Conservation Officer (or for churchyards your Diocesan office) about any required heritage consents.
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 web page provides advice on maintenance and repair.
- 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:
- Earth, Brick and Terracotta
- Glass and Glazing
- Mortars, Renders and Plasters
Related publications of interest
Also of interest...
Lakes and water features: Lakes are often the major design feature of historic parks & gardens. Their care and management is often complex and costly.
Find out how you can help to transform the streets around you.
How to adapt historic buildings and landscapes to make them more accessible to people with disabilities.