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.

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

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 separated 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