Landscape detectives at work

Landscape detectives at work | Image: Heather James

It is clear that you cannot conserve that which you do not know about, writes Sue Hewer. Thanks to the Inventory of some 390 historic gardens and designed landscapes maintained by Historic Scotland we know quite a lot about sites of national importance and for the most part their owners are anxious to conserve what they have.

However, there are literally thousands of historic gardens and landscapes across Scotland about which little is known and which could be at risk. Not all of them are likely to be of regional or even local interest, or merit conserving. However, we won’t know until we’ve found them and explored them.

In order to make a start on what is a considerable task, SGLH (as we are soon to be known) and our contractors, Northlight Heritage, are engaged in a three year pilot project to identify, research, survey, record, interpret and evaluate as many historic gardens and designed landscapes as is possible within the time available in the Falkirk Council area and the area covered by the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership.

The project is designed to include significant community involvement with volunteers being trained in the skills needed to undertake historical research, complete site surveys and record their findings and, where possible, to interpret sites and evaluate them in terms of their regional and local significance.

The completed records created by the volunteers, including photographs and other site documentation are put up on the Canmore on-line database currently managed by the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments for Scotland. It is hoped that, as the records etc are publically available, they will be looked at by anyone interested in garden and landscape history and will also inform the drawing up of Local Development Plans by Local Authorities and any decisions to be taken with regard to planning applications.

If all goes well, the intention is to roll out the methodology into other areas of Scotland with the long term objective of covering the whole country over time. SGLH is nothing if not ambitious!

Exploring our hidden gardens and forgotten landscapes

The Glorious Gardens project was launched with much enthusiasm and enjoyment on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th March at Callendar House, Falkirk and Chatelherault, South Lanarkshire respectively. Fourteen people attended the Falkirk event and forty came to Chatelherault. Seven people registered to volunteer at Falkirk and eighteen did so at Chatelherault. Three people have expressed an interest to work in both areas and five people who were unable to attend the symposia have requested registration forms.

The Falkirk attendees were treated to a rousing talk by Marilyn Brown, author of Scotland’s Lost Gardens, about the delights of researching historic gardens. This was followed by an engrossing account of a survey of Geilston House and gardens by Olivia Lelong of Northlight Heritage. The morning was rounded off by Ingrid Shearer also of Northlight Heritage who provided insights into the roles open to volunteers and the opportunities offered to gain new skills and knowledge in the company of like-minded people. The afternoon was taken up with some landscape detective work under the guidance of Geoff Bailey, Falkirk Community Trust Archaeologist & Keeper of Local History followed by a talk by Geoff on the history of the Callendar designed landscape.

Tree hugging at Chatelherault

Tree hugging at Chatelherault | Image: Heather James

At Chatelherault it was Derek Alexander’s turn to inspire would-be volunteers. Derek is Head of Archaeological Services at the National Trust for Scotland. He took us on a whirlwind tour of archaeological work that the Trust has undertaken at a wide range of its historic gardens. Heather James of Northlight Heritage then told us the fascinating story of one of the Trust’s smaller properties, Greenbank House and garden at Clarkston in Glasgow through the discoveries that she made from documentary and cartographic sources and a site survey. Ingrid again explained what people could expect if they became volunteers before we made our way to lunch.

After lunch the majority braved the rain and wind to look around the designed landscape with Heather, spotting photo opportunities along the way, whilst less hardy souls took the opportunity to check out the historic maps, 18th century garden plans and on-line resources in the warmth of the Banqueting Room. The day was rounded off by a thought provoking talk about the various aspects of woodland regeneration at Chatelherault by Malcolm Muir – Countryside and Greenspace Manager at South Lanarkshire Council.