Rectified photographic image of the parterre at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire.

Rectified Photograph of the West Parterre, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. © Historic England
Rectified Photograph of the West Parterre, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. © Historic England

Garden History

Understanding the history of a garden and park is essential to its conservation and managing changes. This page outlines the range of methods used to research, investigate and analyse historic landscapes.

A plan of Heveningham Hall, signed by Capability Brown
Watercolour plans of Heveningham Hall, Suffolk, signed by Capability Brown. © Historic England, Anna Bridson, image reference DP185808

Some of the techniques that we use

Investigation of a historic park and garden may involve many different methods and techniques:

  • Documentary and archive research. This could include maps and plans, estate papers, drawings, painting, photographs, postcards, local authority records and so on
  • Modern photographs, aerial and satellite photographs, and maps
  • Field walking to identify  surviving and lost  historic features
  • Garden archaeology including remote sensing techniques like lidar
  •  Buildings survey
  • Tree survey
  • Wildlife and habitat survey
  • Geology and soils survey

Historic England's garden history research is available in our Research Report database. Two examples are:

Rebecca Pullen, 2016: Reginald Farrer's Rock Garden, Clapham, North Yorkshire: Analytical Survey and Assessment. Historic England Research Report 7/2016

Magnus Alexander, 2013: Wrest Park, Silsoe Bedfordshire: Archaeological Landscape Investigations. Historic England Research Report 6/2013

A plan from a survey of trees on the Osborne Estate.
A plan from a tree survey carried out at the Osborne estate, Isle of Wight. © Historic England, image reference MP_0S1341

Recording and analysing historic parks and gardens

Research will typically need to look at:

  • Historic and modern boundaries
  • Entrances and approaches
  • Principal building and other buildings and structures
  • Formal gardens
  • The park
  • Kitchen garden
  • Outliers (detached features of the park and garden and land seperated from the main area like distant follies) and other land
  • Views and vistas

Further reading

Historic England advice on conservation management plans for parks and gardens

Parks and Gardens UK website

Chris Currie 2005: Garden Archaeology: A Handbook

David Lambert 2006: Parks and Gardens: A Researchers Guide to Sources for Designed Landscapes

ICOMOS-UK 1999: Guidelines on Archaeology in the Management of Gardens Parks and Estates

'Survey and Assessment' pages 117-163 in Marion Harney ed 2014: Historic Building Conservation

John Watkins and Tom Wright eds 2007: The Management and Maintenance of Historic Parks and Gardens. The English Heritage Handbook

For information on garden history courses see the Gardens Trust website


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