• 'Consulting the Genius of the Place' - Kelmscott Manor and the Restoration of Plantsmen's Gardens

      Pardoe, James; Stoneystreet, Gavin F. (University of Chester, 2017)
      In garden conservation the focus of protective legislation and guidance is on structures such as terraces, or gardens that have a structural quality to them, for example parterres or 18th century landscapes. Meanwhile the planting in and around these spaces remains largely unlegislated, therefore unprotected. This becomes an issue in the 20th century with the development of plantsmen’s gardens, spaces that are created and defined by the creativity of their planting alone. We now have a hugely influential genre of gardens that whilst being an internationally significant art form are not protected as heritage, and due to the ephemeral nature of their plantbased composition are entirely vulnerable to neglect. Given the absence of support from governing bodies and the lack of literature on the subject, this study aims to uncover the needs of plantsmen’s gardens and consider how an approach to their protection may be developed in the future. This will be achieved from the view of restoration of those that have already been lost, to the conservation of those still in existence. The focus of data will be on interviewing industry professionals, from Historic England, English Heritage, and the National Trust, along with Head gardeners, curators, researchers and garden historians. Given the lack of literature around the subject, and the practical nature of the discipline, it is the opinions and decisions of these individuals that most significantly shape the gardens being discussed. The restoration of the Kelmscott Manor gardens of William Morris, a progenitor of the plantsmen’s garden style, will be used as a study to consider the fallible possibilities of restoring such spaces and as a cautionary tale as to why conservation should be the primary aim in avoiding the need for restoration. The restoration of Kelmscott Manor gardens doesn’t capture the ethos of the originator, or as Alexander Pope states ‘the genius of the place.’ In so doing this fails to present the potential educational value of the gardens. The restoration does however capture most of the elements of what is considered acceptable in current garden restoration, exposing the limited responsibilities currently in place to protect this heritage. The lack of documentation of specific plants used in the original planting, and the changing nature of planting combinations over time makes restoration of these gardens problematic, therefore the attention needs to be placed on conservation as a means to avoid the need for restoration. Plantsmen’s gardens are continually evolving creative spaces and therefore their heritage has an intangible element to it. This renders specific and rigid legislation impractical and unworkable. If we are to look at the spaces as creative rather than static, then finding the ‘genius of the place’ will not be achieved by traditional conservation means of legislation but rather through education. If head gardeners understand the philosophies of the artists in whose gardens they are working, then they can allow change to take place in a way that doesn’t lose the influence and ethos of its creator. The vulnerability of this genre of gardens, and their significance in the chronology of our garden history means that urgent action needs to be taken by industry bodies. This would create a sense of responsibility that would ensure that the legacy of plantsmen’s gardens could be conserved.