Suffolk’s Unforgettable Gardens Stories Come Alive: A Volunteer’s Journey Revealed

In a recent edition of the GT Summer News Magazine, we delved into some of the narratives of Suffolk’s Unforgettable Gardens, shedding light on the research undertaken by our dedicated volunteers. In this follow-up piece, we wish to cast the spotlight on the human side of this endeavour – the remarkable contributions made by volunteers who have collectively enriched the research landscape.

In her words, we bring you the account of one of our volunteers, Gillian Childs, as she shares her personal journey and experiences while being involved in this project.

Raring to go with the Research by Gillian Childs


I only discovered the Suffolk Gardens Trust in October 2022 and went along to my first garden visit.  It was here that Karina Flynn gave a presentation about a forthcoming research project – Suffolk’s Unforgettable Gardens Story.  Having some new-found spare time, I decided to find out a bit more.  Never having done any research or written a thesis, I was a little apprehensive about whether I would have the skills to do the project justice. However, Karina and her team provided regular online meetings and visits to Suffolk’s archives at The Hold in Ipswich to explain the process and, gradually, I gained in confidence.

Volunteer Gillian sat down and reaching out to stroke a black cat
Gillian Childs is a first time researcher who began volunteering with the Gardens Trust in Autumn 2022

I was very fortunate with the first garden I selected to research, Abbot’s Hall, as a huge amount of work had already been done by Linda Robinson who had based her recent dissertation on this very garden. Her first-hand knowledge and experience of what was required and how to present everything stood me in good stead for the other two gardens I had chosen.

All of this was very new to me, but the support provided by the Gardens Trust and Suffolk Gardens Trust gave me the confidence to tackle the other two gardens I had selected: Stowlangtoft Park and Thornham Park.

I enjoyed volunteering with others, so the research and visits to the archives could be shared. I teamed up with Liz Adams for the second garden I researched, Stowlangtoft Park, and this has been equally rewarding.  Her knowledge of architecture, trees and, crucially, her local knowledge was extremely useful.  As she lived nearer to the site’s local archive office, and I to The Hold in Ipswich, we were able to split the research easily.  My experience researching with Linda on Abbot’s Hall really helped with how Liz and I planned our research and, most importantly, we remembered to take lots of photos and annotate a map of where they were taken.  We cracked on with this garden quickly and were able to complete it in good time.

Gillian on a research trip to Stowlangtoft Park, with road running between an avenue of tall pine trees.
Gillian on a research trip to Stowlangtoft Park

When researching Thornham Park, my third garden, I didn’t have a fellow researcher, but I was beginning to understand what was needed and recruited Tony, my husband, to make notes of all the photos I took.

Research trip to Thornham Walks walled garden

With all three of ‘my’ gardens completed, I am now looking at another garden which is local to me as the research bug has bitten!

Read more about the Suffolk’s Unforgettable Gardens Story project supported by Historic England, here.

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith