Volunteers planting at Easton Lodge, Nr. Great Dunmow, Essex
Volunteers planting at Easton Lodge, Nr. Great Dunmow, Essex © Historic England
Volunteers planting at Easton Lodge, Nr. Great Dunmow, Essex © Historic England

Maintenance, Repair and Conservation Management Plans for Historic Parks and Gardens

Maintenance and repair are needed to tackle the inevitable decay and deterioration of landscape design features and plantings that occurs because of age, neglect, wear and tear by users, pests and diseases, and increasingly climate change impacts.

What is maintenance?

We define maintenance as routine work necessary to keep the fabric of a place in good order.

The main objective of maintenance is to limit deterioration. Although it is often seen as mundane, maintenance forms a cornerstone of garden conservation. Maintenance is cost-effective, the time and money spent on routine care, regular surveys and minor repairs protect the value of the historic park and garden. Good maintenance also helps to ensure the health and safety of users and visitors.

What is repair?

We define repair as work beyond the scope of maintenance, to remedy defects caused by decay, damage or use, including minor adaptation to achieve a sustainable outcome, but not involving alteration or restoration.

Repair is normally carried out to sustain the significance of historic parks and gardens. Equally important in most cases is keeping the designed landscape in use, which is the best way to safeguard its future.

Find out more about principles of repair.

What is restoration?

We define restoration as returning a historic park and garden to “a known earlier state, on the basis of compelling evidence, without conjecture”. The criteria include:

  • Weighing up the effect of change restoration work would bring to the heritage values of the historic park and garden
  • Compelling evidence for the restoration work
  • The proposed work respects previous forms of the historic park and garden
  • The maintenance implications of the proposed restoration are considered to be sustainable

The distinction between restoration and repair can sometimes become blurred when design details and or decorative elements that are important to the character and appearance of the designed landscape become eroded or damaged.

Often a programme of repair provides an opportunity for the reinstatement of missing elements, provided:

  • Sufficient evidence exists for an accurate replacement
  • No loss of historic fabric occurs
  • The necessary consents are obtained in advance

In some circumstances, restoration may provide conservation benefits that cannot be achieved through repair alone.

Conservation management plans

In caring for, or managing change in, historic parks, gardens and other landscapes, there are often many features, historic layers and diverse interests to consider. For example biodiversity has to be considered alongside the business and economic viability of the property whether it is a home, agricultural estate, public park, hotel or visitor attraction.

Conservation management plans have been developed as a tool to help pull together an understanding of what matters and why, and how to conserve and manage it. From this informed basis, plans are then used to develop programmes of repair, restoration or to draw up proposals for change.

You'll need to give thought to the sort of plan you need, how to develop it and your budget. Expert consultants may help to prepare your plan but it's essential that the property team are closely involved and help shape it.

Conservation management plans don't need to be lengthy documents but large and complex historic parks and gardens may require a range of research and survey information. The best plans are structured to meet the needs of the specific property and designed to be used for every day reference by staff managing the site.

Plans not only pull together and analyse the history of a landscape, they are also an important record in their own right. We encourage copies to be deposited with an accredited archive. Plans developed as part of a Historic England funded project are kept by us as part of our accredited archive (see our grant conditions).

Here are links for published guidance on preparing plans for historic parks and gardens. The range of guidance reflects how plans are used to support restoration projects, new developments or agri-environment schemes like Countryside Stewardship. There are a range of terms for these plans. We prefer to call them conservation management plans.

  • Historic England’s Conservation Principles provide a framework for guidance on policies for repair, intervention, restoration, new work and alteration and enabling development.
  • National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Conservation Plan Guidance is very useful advice that can be applied to a range of sites and not just lottery projects. The guidance explains how to commission a plan, what it needs to cover, and involving stakeholders. The Heritage Fund also publishes guidance on preparing management and maintenance plans.
  • CABESpace (2004) A Guide to Producing Parks and Green Space Management Plans is also useful for public parks.
  • Natural England publishes guidance on plans for conditional exemption from capital taxation or related maintenance funds. The guidance is also useful for large country estates.
  • Forestry Commission provides advice on woodland management plans.
  • Advice on researching historic parks and gardens is published in David Lambert, Peter Goodchild and Judith Robert’s 2006 'Parks and Gardens: A Researcher’s Guide to Sources for Designed Landscapes'. Since this book was published, many more online resources have become available. The Gardens Trust offers an online training package on conservation management plans. 

Looking for a specific plan?

Increasingly records of conservation management plans are logged on the UK historic environment sector’s OASIS database along with other site investigation reports. These records should help you identify where plans are archived. The OASIS records are also linked to the local Historic Environment Records.

The Parks and Gardens database includes a catalogue of plans in the Hestercombe Archive of Conservation Management Plans. More plans continue to be deposited with the Hestercombe Gardens Trust.

Learn more

'The Management and Maintenance of Historic Parks, Gardens and Landscapes' (Edited by John Watkins and Tom Wright, Published 2007) is a reference manual written for professionals, land agents, designers, gardeners, managers, students and owners. The book is divided into four sections:

  • Understanding and planning the historic landscape and garden – Historic perspective, conservation management plan process, managing historic parks and gardens, the legal framework
  • The living garden landscape - Maintenance and management practice of trees, shrubs, perennials and other plants, and garden features like rock gardens, parterres and more; nature conservation, weed, pests and disease control and machinery.
  • Case studies - Brodsworth Hall, Chatsworth, Down House, Great Dixter, Hampton Court, Levens Hall, Sheffield Botanic Garden, Sheffield Park Garden, Squerryes Court and Stonehenge.
  • Appendices - There are tables on the dates of introduction for trees, conifers, rhododendrons, shrubs, herbaceous plants, fruit and vegetables. There are other appendices on glasshouse displays, hedge maintenance, pests and diseases, and so on.

Hardy plants and plantings

The choice of plants and planting layout are important in the presentation of a period garden.

As a contribution to the 2018 celebrations for the bicentenary of Humphry Repton we published Hardy Plants and Plantings for Repton and Late Georgian Gardens (1780 - 1820). This short guidance publication provides:

  • An overview of English garden design
  • Plants and planting styles – plant palette, massing in groups, shrubberies, annuals, biennials, perennials and bulbs, rose gardens
  • Tips on research resources
  • A plant list of typical plants available at the end of the 19th century
  • Sites to visit and three case studies