Protect & serve

PUBLISHED: 07:50 04 February 2014 | UPDATED: 07:51 04 February 2014

Visit to Valentines Park, Ilford. The walled garden. Valentines Park had heritage lottery funding to restore many of the C18 features

Visit to Valentines Park, Ilford. The walled garden. Valentines Park had heritage lottery funding to restore many of the C18 features


Essex boasts a diverse and rich heritage of historic gardens and parkland where many of the great gardening names, including the Tradescants, Bridgeman, Lord Petre, Capability Brown, Woods, Repton, Nesfield, Peto and Gibberd, have left their footprint.

Some gardens are well known and much supported by the public while others are merely a fragment of their glorious heyday or have made way for the increased demands for housing and transport. But whatever their condition, the Essex Gardens Trust, founded in 1996, seeks to prevent further loss or deterioration of the county’s specially-designed living green spaces and with the help of its members, it is researching across the whole county to record historic garden spaces and parklands.

The main focus of the trust is to carry out historic research and conservation of historically designed gardens and parks, and dovetailed with this ethos is promoting gardening in schools through an education programme.

‘It’s really lovely and inspiring to see children learning about plants, growing things from seed and watching plants thrive,’ says Jill Plater, a trustee of the Essex Gardens Trust and the leader of the research group. The education programme advises and helps schools create interesting themes to improve their grounds and to create a better environment for study and play. Children get involved, with the help of the group’s volunteers, to create the green spaces and the trust has prepared information sheets for schools with tips, helpful advice and plant lists which make useful education resources. The group also works with RHS Hyde Hall and contributes funds for schools to enjoy a day at the venue to learn about gardening and plants.’

The trust’s research group is gradually mapping and recording garden spaces throughout the county and meets monthly at the Essex Record Office. Charting the county’s landscape heritage through to the 21st century, trust members and volunteers organise desk research and site surveys.

‘The work is really interesting and rewarding,’ adds Jill, ‘and members get guidance and lots of support with their research.’

During the summer, visits and outdoor skills meetings take place on aspects of site research for members of the group, which are all thoroughly enjoyed. Gradually researchers are working across all the districts in Essex (five are completed so far) and have published several books and publications forming a collection of comprehensive reports detailing the histories of many of the county’s parks and gardens. These books are available for sale on the trust’s website.

The next publication will be outlining the work of landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and the gardens, parks and landscapes he worked on in Essex to celebrate the tercentenary of his birth in 2016. ‘There are around nine sites in the county that Brown worked on and information on each will be detailed in the new book. It will be interesting for people to see the work of this celebrated landscaper across Essex,’ Jill explains.

Monitoring and commenting on planning applications across the county is an important aspect of the trust’s conservation work. Members of the team work closely with researchers to help identify important historic sites in each district and give informed comments when designed landscapes come under threat of inappropriate development. The outcome of some planning applications may not always be successful, but the trust provides useful information and guidance to minimise the impact of development on historic sites.

As well as getting involved in research, conservation and education, members of the Essex Gardens Trust also get the chance to meet with other members on garden visits, listen to informative talks and go on study days. Gardens are visited outside Essex, as well as places within the county, and most gardens are opened exclusively for the trust. There are also lectures and talks which take place at Writtle College and events in 2014 include lectures about Anglesey Abbey garden in Cambridgeshire and understanding research. Garden visits include a guided tour of the trees at Warley Place, once home to Ellen Willmott, and a look at the winter plants at Marks Hall near Coggeshall.

‘The great thing about the trust,’ says Jill, ‘is that members can get involved as little or as much as they want to. Everyone is welcome, and being a member is very satisfying.’

Latest from the Essex Life