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Gardens Trusts: fan clubs for our heritage landscapes

We are famously a nation of garden lovers, but for the Gardens Trusts, this love of gardens does not simply end with pretty plants, but rather extends into heritage and conservation.

County Gardens Trusts members gathered in the Capability Brown landscape of Burghley House © County Gardens Trust

These unique groups operate independently across England (one for each county, and Wales too!) but are linked through a national organisation, The Gardens Trust, which is a statutory consultee in the planning system. (The Gardens Trust was formed in July 2015, following the merger of the Garden History Society with the Association of Gardens Trusts.)

In 2016, we are all celebrating the tercentenary of famous landscape designer Capability Brown, with the Capability Brown Festival. County Gardens Trusts are an energetic bunch, and have leapt into action to offer an impressive range of events. Just a few highlights include Yorkshire’s exhibition at the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate, Nottinghamshire’s Family Day at Thoresby, the Isle of Wight’s Study Day at Appuldurcombe, and Cambridgeshire’s weekend conference on Brown, at which Gardens Trusts from all over the country will gather to chew the fat and meet new members. And let’s not forget splendid Northamptonshire, who have pulled out all the stops to commission aerial films, lay on Black History Month events, and work with local schools.  (Details of all events at www.capabilitybrown.org)

Research with coffee and cake

But although such events create a lively and welcoming social scene, research and recording activity is also a key part of CGT activity. Over the decades, CGTs have researched thousands of historic parks and gardens, from the nationally-known, to the hidden gems of their localities. This research involves time spent looking for dusty documents in archives and attics, some untouched for generations, or tramping through beautiful and often romantically neglected gardens in order to seek out and record crumbling grottos and hahas. Most importantly, it involves working with friendly likeminded people, all of whom have a penchant for a good cake and cuppa at the end of a day’s work! For the Capability Brown Festival, CGT research teams are busy searching through 18th century account books, poring over maps, and surveying estates, in order to find out more about Capability Brown, about whom so little has actually been known previously. This research is being added to www.parksandgardens.org, used for literature being produced by the Festival, and being made widely available in a range of publications from books to leaflets, some of which you can find listed at http://www.thegardenstrust.org/cgt-publications.html.

(And they are also finding time to do great work recording First World War memorial gardens, as a commemoration of the Great War, again adding the material to www.parksandgardens.org)

Crucial planning assistance

Increasingly, many CGTs are working with The Gardens Trust’s tiny team of national conservation staff to comment on planning applications and ensure that historic parks and gardens are conserved for the future by being protected in the planning system. In many cases, CGTs’ own research work is crucial to backing up the arguments in favour of conservation. Norfolk Gardens Trust has fought hard to see off a barrage of wind farm applications that would devastate important historic gardens on its scenic coast, whilst Cheshire Gardens Trust argued against an intrusive new play area in the parkland of a well-known visitor attraction. During 2016, CGTs and The Gardens Trust are working together to explore the impact of development and decay on Brown’s landscapes.

Join the club!

CGTs are a lively bunch, filled with intelligent, energetic and friendly people. But they all work on the principle of the more the merrier! Do please make contact with your local County Gardens Trust, be it Cornwall or Cumbria, and see what they’re up to … they’d love you to get involved!

More about The Gardens Trust, and individual County Gardens Trust contact details, can be found at www.thegardenstrust.org. Follow us on Twitter at @thegardenstrust, or join Facebook’s The Gardens Trust group.