HERITAGE GARDENS: The World’s Great Gardens Saved by Restoration

by George Plumptre

Publisher:  Mitchell Beazley (October 2007)
ISBN 9781845332716

Hardback  £30

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‘Waking sleeping beauties’ is often how garden restorations are described, and Heritage Gardens really does reveal the beauty of a wide range of garden restorations.  Such projects are mainly a phenomenon of the 20th century – the visions of organisations and individuals who have looked back and decided to preserve the work of garden designers, gardeners, and styles of gardening, that might otherwise have been lost.

After an opening chapter looking at the incentives behind the many types of garden restoration, the writer and international authority on garden history, George Plumptre, mainly lets each garden speak for itself.  He uses stunning contemporary colour photos – there are a few old photographs, pictures and plans depicting the original gardens and how they looked before restoration:  I would have liked to have seen more of these.  His accompanying texts are full of details about the history of each garden and its restoration and consider the quest for authenticity, the requirement for high standards of work, and the commitment to rebuilding something of sufficient value to merit the effort and expense.

A good many of the 37 gardens are in the British Isles: Heligan (the only Cornish garden featured, and cited as an example of how marketing brought garden history and archaeology into the public consciousness) has a 2-page spread devoted to it.  Other gardens range across the grand symmetry of the Privy Garden at Hampton Court, the painterly exoticism of La Majorelle in Morocco, the restoration of the original concept of the modernist house and garden at the Kaufmann ‘Desert House’ in California, the Italian Renaissance Villa Farnese near Rome, the cottage garden style of Margery Fish’s East Lambrook Manor, and the exploration of the plants of Egypt, China and other parts of the world at Biddulph Grange.  New threats are not ignored:  Shalimar Bagh in Pakistan was threatened by a road-widening project in 1999, saved by UNESCO placing it on its ‘Sites in Danger’ list.

Finally, useful information comprises a gazetteer of the gardens, short biographies of the key personalities, a bibliography, and an extensive index.
This is a coffee table format book that, like each garden, can be admired for its loveliness, but it is also successful in showing us how garden restorations have contributed to our knowledge and understanding of garden history.

Shirley Barnes