Since the announcement of a new home for Parks and Gardens UK in September 2016, you may have been wondering what has been happening with the database and its planned transition to Hestercombe Gardens Trust.
In September 2016 Parks & Gardens UK (P&GUK) with Hestercombe Gardens Trust received £97,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF, now the National Lottery Heritage Fund, NLHF) which secured the future of the P&GUK database and website of historic designed landscapes.
The existing website and database urgently needed to be updated, to enhance usability, for example on mobile, and to present an improved search functionality to aid researchers. The existing data also needed to be assessed, cleansed and reorganised in order to maintain its integrity and allow website users to access the information required.
Project Manager Dr Daniele Agostini played a pivotal role in moving and securing the Parks & Gardens database from its original and highly vulnerable platform and server on to ones that were secure – a process that was fraught with difficulties and was previously thought could well be virtually impossible.
To facilitate the development, Hestercombe appointed Exeter-based web developers Yello Studio, who have a highly respected track record of working with large brands such as the Wall Street Journal, Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize and Luscombe Drinks. Over the course of 2017-2018 they scoped out the project, database and presented designs, which were then migrated and made live in the autumn of 2018.
Throughout 2019 a small team of dedicated Parks and Gardens volunteers, trained to use the content management system of the new Parks and Gardens website, and led by a part-time Data Manager, have been tasked with inputting records submitted by County Gardens Trusts, making important refinements to the records of places and people, and testing the website to provide the developers with crucial user experience feedback which is then actioned to improve the website’s functionality.
Yello Studio have been making a range of important technical improvements to the website and database.
Aside from the various content edits around the administration and the front-end appearance of the site, the main technical areas for development have been:
- Introducing a brand new Search Map functionality [LINK WHEN LIVE], based on Google Maps functionality, which includes clustering of results, a user-friendly preview window on sidebar with related people and more relevant lists, speeding up of the response from the search, reworking the search filters to be much more user friendly
- Creating ‘County’ page views in a separate to map for Google indexing – which should aid the site ranking on Google search engine results pages. It is hoped that County Gardens Trusts will, in time, be able to populate these pages
- Adding revenue-generating Adsense back to the site and investigating further ways of making the database financially sustainable
Having reached the end of its original transition funding window, a new proposal for a further award of NLHF funding is being prepared by Hestercombe Gardens in order to protect the ongoing maintenance and updating of the P&GUK database, and to enable the development of a financially sustainable business model, in addition to outreach to, and data entry training for, County Gardens Trusts across the UK.
About the Parks & Gardens UK database
The P&GUK archive has records of almost 10,000 historic designed landscape sites and over 2,400 biographies of associated people and organisations. The Hestercombe Archive contains a significant collection of documents, photographs, plans and manuscripts relating not only to Hestercombe itself (with its 18th-century Landscape Garden and also its Jekyll / Lutyens gardens) but to other parks, gardens and designed landscapes in the United Kingdom.
It is intended that by digitalising the Hestercombe Archive and combining the two databases to achieve economies of scale and ease of access between them, it will offer a powerful research resource unmatched elsewhere. It will also allow for its expansion by maintaining and developing the existing close relationship between County Gardens Trust and The Gardens Trust, as well as the development of new relationships with like-minded organisations.
Hestercombe Gardens, near Taunton, is readily accessible and has a range of conference rooms for seminars, summer schools and workshops that will make the study of gardens and landscapes available to a wider public.
We welcome contributions
If you have spotted a record on the Parks & Gardens UK website, or an error with any part of the functionality of the website, please contact us and we will endeavour to update it as soon as possible.