An Overview of Research and Recording Practice
A preliminary investigation is useful to determine whether a garden is worth researching in more depth. It may involve some map or documentary research, an inspection of the site, or both. At this stage, you should aim to collect:
- Brief notes on the history of the park or garden, the main existing components (such as a walled kitchen garden or maze) and its current use and condition.
- A note of any key sources of information about the place and its history.
- Copies of plans, photographs or illustrations, both current and historical, relating to the garden's development.
The kind of documentary materials you might consult in researching a garden's history can include (but are not limited to):
- Maps and plans
- Paintings, prints, engravings, photographs and drawings
- Aerial photographs
- Estate papers and sales particulars
- Family and personal papers
- Contemporary articles, books and guidebooks
- Visitors' accounts
- Other records, such as deeds and wills, or bank, parish or manorial records.
A chronological sequence of maps is particularly helpful in showing how a garden and its boundaries have changed over time. Of all the different types of map available, the Ordnance Survey is probably the most important.
Where a garden is private, estate records and family papers may still be in the possession of the owner or previous owners. It is worth asking, as the owner may not always be aware of the relevance of the materials they hold.
The personal recollections of owners, occupiers, gardeners and local people can also provide valuable information, and it is a good idea to sound-record or video such interviews if possible.
Reference or university libraries and county records offices are a useful starting point to find out what materials are available.
A comprehensive source for identifying relevant printed materials is A Bibliography of Garden History by Ray Desmond.
For unpublished archival material, the National Register of Archives can help to locate relevant sources within local and national collections and archives, both in the UK and overseas.
The footnotes and references of the scholarly journals mentioned above are another good source of information on materials available.
For a detailed guide to the many potential sources of information and where to find them, see Parks and Gardens: A Researcher's Guide to Sources for Designed Landscapes by David Lambert, Peter Goodchild and Judith Roberts.
Begin a basic file or dossier at the outset of your research. Initial information should include the site's name, address, local government district, OS grid reference, and the factors that led to your interest in researching the garden's history.
As the project progresses, you are likely to gather a large amount of information. It is important early on to establish a system for organising and storing all the written, digital, audio and visual materials you collect.
A careful record of information gained, its source, and where it can be found, is essential for future reference, checking and further study. Information which does not seem very important initially, can later prove vital.
It is advisable to make thorough notes from the start of your project. Developing a standard record sheet to include the date and details of each contact you make can be a helpful way of assembling and filing information as you go along.