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Why and how should we preserve 20th century gardens?

Catherine Stewart

Catherine Stewart

November 8, 2014

Why, and how should we preserve 20th century gardens? The UK National Trust’s recent rejection of a gifting of Sir Roy Strong’s ‘The Laskett’ garden has fuelled debate about both garden quality and the ways such gardens should be kept and preserved into the future.

Much has been said about The Laskett in recent weeks after the National Trust rejected owner Sir Roy Strong’s gift of the garden after his death, accompanied by a substantial £3 million endowment to fund its upkeep.

Although some have been kinder, in the past garden reviewers, like landscape designer Emma Bond on thinkingardens.co.uk have criticised The Laskett with:

“I came away from The Laskett with too many lessons on how not to design a garden.”

And from Anne Wareham in the Spectator:

“Even a dreadful garden will receive warm praise if you open it to the public – as Sir Roy Strong has proved.”

Bunny Guiness has now written in the UK telegraph about the dilemmas of preserving 20th century gardens, especially the smaller and more personal ones, exploring the alternative management and funding models used by open gardens such as Fullers Mill garden in Suffolk, The Old Vicarage at East Ruston in Norfolk, York Gate garden, and Borde Hill. These are managed by private charitable trusts, surviving on gate receipts plus grants, donations and special events.

However the debate about garden quality is missing from Guiness’s evaluation, except from some concluding remarks about how revered National Trust gardens like Stourhead and Hidcote

“and other venerable gardens were less impressive in many ways when their creators were alive.”

I have never seen The Laskett, but I don’t think that an unworthy garden becomes a worthy one with age. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, that ugly old antique in Cornwall, is ample evidence of that.

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