1991, Sarah Fraser, MA Conservation, University Of York

Learning the gospel of garden conservation

By Sarah Fraser

At the time of writing, this Guild member is deeply immersed in the issues concerning the conservation of historic landscapes, parks and gardens. Yes, I have abandoned the real world for the joys of Academe, also forsaking my long-suffering husband, the smelly spaniel, two heartbroken guinea pigs (all on a temporary basis, though!), and a steady job (I don’t think my employers were too sad to see the back of me!).

This over-age student is spending a year at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies – part of York University – looking at ways of conserving, managing and restoring that vital part of things which architects and engineers so often overlook: the designed landscape which happens to be of historic interest. The M.A. course is run side by side, and sometimes together with, a buildings conservation course. This results in lots of exchange of ideas and comments from architect types such as “I didn’t realise that as much care and attention went into the design of the historic landscape as the design of the buildings”. I feel a mission coming on – to preach to the uninitiated the word of landscape and plants, especially historic ones!

My ultimate aim is to be useful in the world of historic landscape conservation, perhaps working with historic parks and gardens as a specialist, advising on management and restoration projects. This is a great course for enthusing the student (exceptions including when one is trudging round a freezing cold, rain-drenched garden with a Siberian wind cutting through, trying to produce a coherent, workable plan for opening to the public), giving plenty of information and practical exercises, and meeting anyone who is someone in the historic landscape conservation sphere.

The whole course is good for putting practical experience together with theory and research in order to solve conservation problems. So far we students have taken part in modules covering Garden History, the Conservation and Management of Historic Gardens, a week devoted to the uses of lime on buildings, walls etc. (it is wonderfully versatile stuff; put it in your tea, on your cornflakes or wherever else you feel appropriate), Garden Archaeology and many other similarly useful themes. The year consists of two terms spent on lectures, study exercises “in the field”, and student seminars; the third term and summer holidays mainly devoted to research and writing up a dissertation on a self-selected subject, with some lectures slotted in too.

Overall this year should prove very worthwhile as a launch pad into the Conservation World, with a good academic grounding and bags of enthusiasm to return to the Real World and work with historic landscapes, parks and gardens. I am especially grateful to the Guild for their donation to my funds for this course, which has enabled me to buy much needed books and lead a little less Spartan existence than might otherwise have been the case. Floreat Kew!


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