Walled gardens intrigue many of us. The notable ones are often listed or protected through registration as part of a park and garden of special historic interest.
There are many more valued as local features and they are often vulnerable, perhaps overgrown, derelict or under threat from re-development.
Conserving walled gardens and structures project
Responding by questions from individuals and groups concerned about the future of local walled gardens and their conservation, English Heritage commissioned Andrew Townsend Architects, in December 2006, to investigate. A project was set up to look at walled gardens, both historically and currently; identify issues and vulnerabilities; and to develop conservation advice and guidance.
Phase I of the project involved the investigation of currently available information, refinement of definitions and development of appropriate working methods.
A pilot survey based on 1st edition 1:2500 Ordnance Survey mapping was supported by the use of English Heritage GIS and other internet sources, consultation with informed groups and individuals including a horticulturist and a statistician, and limited field work.
This work was extended in Phase II to include a map survey of the North West region focusing on domestic productive walled gardens with a minimum size of 0.18 hectare/0.5 acre.
This has established an evidence base for the number and size of walled gardens, geographical spread and the extent of redevelopment loss.
The Phase II project also included the preparation of advice and guidance on recording for use by volunteer groups, and case studies involving the repair, continuing use and sympathetic re-use of walled gardens.
Conservation guidance was drafted following English Heritage’s Conservation Principles, making use of information collected during the project as well as acknowledged good repair practice in historic buildings work.
Key findings from Phases I and II
The key finding from Phases I and II of the project was the ubiquity of relatively modest productive walled gardens by the later 19th century, typically associated with villas, village houses and minor country houses built between the mid 18th and the mid 19th centuries in what were then urban fringe areas.
They may have limited horticultural significance but were integral to the fabric of daily life and have in consequence been a major influence on the development of the built environment, although these sites have in turn been highly vulnerable to development pressures arising from urban expansion.
These gardens embody key heritage values, and anecdotal evidence from the Phase I project suggests that surviving sites retain particularly high levels of communal and social significance for local people.
However, the evidence also suggests that a large majority of these gardens have been lost to redevelopment, mainly for housing, from the mid-19th century onwards, and that surviving walled gardens are under-valued as a resource. The great majority are not recognised in current registers and, at most, only 20 per cent benefit from statutory protection.
Phase III of the project is intended to draw to a conclusion the research carried out in phases I and II with the aim of disseminating information and policy guidance.
Phase III will involve digitisation of the Phase II map survey results through the creation of an AMIE [Archives and Monuments Information England] record for each site and the finalisation of advice on AMIE-compatible record creation for use by volunteer groups, designed to overcome perceived inconsistencies.
A final report will be prepared on the map survey work with research advice notes developed and finalised to inform and share experience for future research on productive walled gardens.
Case study research will be written up and illustrated in a form suitable for use in policy and practical conservation advice. This advice will be published online on this website.
Further dissemination is planned. The project’s findings will probably be presented at a seminar or similar event held in conjunction with organisations such as the Walled Kitchen Gardens Network and other relevant organisations.
For further information on walled gardens please visit the Walled Kitchen Gardens Network web site.