A huge thank you to all our volunteers

Volunteers planting foxgloves in Rivington Terrace Garden

In Volunteers’ Week, we would like to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers who help the Gardens Trust and County Gardens Trusts around the country to protect historic parks and gardens. We simply couldn’t exist without their incredible efforts.

Volunteers help to keep our cogs turning, organise events, research parks and gardens, comment on planning applications that threaten precious historic sites, and help share garden history with new people.

To mark Volunteers’ Week 2020 we asked a few of these generous people to tell their stories, as well as extending our heartfelt thanks to the many others who volunteer alongside them.

Virginia Hinze
Chair of the Gardens Trust’s Events Committee, and Trustee of Sussex Gardens Trust

Volunteer Virginia Hinze at Sussex Garden Trust's 20th birthday celebration at Brighton Pavilion
Virginia Hinze (in white dress) at Sussex Garden Trust’s 20th birthday celebration at Brighton Pavilion

“By training I’m a geographer and landscape architect, my career spanning 20-odd years in a County Council multi-disciplinary planning and landscape team. This was followed by a diploma in historic designed landscape conservation at the Architectural Association, 12 years as an Inspector and regional landscape architect at English Heritage (now Historic England) and, last but not least, a consultant.

Why I volunteer

When retirement came, volunteering ‘in the sector’ seemed the obvious way to continue playing an active part not only in the landscape conservation field I had enjoyed so much for 35 years but also the best way to remain in touch with all the great friends and colleagues I had made.

At first, I did a lot of work designing and running training sessions to help volunteers learn to research and record historic landscapes. These early days were exciting – seeing volunteers’ eyes open with amazement when an historic feature on a C19th map appeared like magic on the ground!  With Kent Gardens Trust I trained new volunteers to research, survey and write reports on parks and garden of local interest (for which Local Planning Authorities paid them!). I then did the same with Buckinghamshire GT to get them going – theirs is an amazing on-going success story. These sessions were adopted by the Garden Trust’s capacity-building staff and continue to be used to train volunteers across the country

Favourite landscape

I’m often asked to chose my favourite park or garden, but that’s a bit like having to choose one desert island disc – it depends so much on the time of year, weather, mood – and which country one is in.  I like to cheat and have two: one would be Prince Pückler’s estate at Muskau on the German/Polish border. He was a true eccentric but knew exactly how he wished to lay out his ornamentally-planted garden on picturesque principles, even though it eventually bankrupted him. My other is Gilbert White’s garden at Selbourne in Hampshire. He gently mocked the great designers with his papier-mâché and cut-out urns and hermit’s hut but broke new ground in his recording of the natural world.”

Sussex Gardens Trust

Rob Adams
Volunteer researcher with Essex Gardens Trust

Volunteer Essex Gardens Trust researcher Rob Adams at his computer
Volunteer Essex Gardens Trust researcher Rob Adams at his computer

“I have worked in horticulture and landscape management for over 30 years, so in my work I have studied and designed landscapes and gardens, strengthening the connection with our green spaces and the wildlife they support. Being able to help with researching and managing the historic spaces is incredibly rewarding and always has some wonderful surprises, when you’re looking for something and an unexpected feature shows up. It can complicate the research or change the approach required, creating an exciting dynamic in the work.

I have lived in Essex all my life and have memories of a predominantly rural county, in Billericay we could run and play in fields, streams and woodland in walking distance of home. These lasting memories of feeling free outdoors are a driving motivation to keep high quality green space close by. I understand that development will happen but keeping spaces with cultural significance provides a sense of belonging to a place; the spirit, memory and beauty of our local landscapes.

Why I volunteer

I volunteer because some of the most exciting projects have low funding and rely upon the enthusiasm of the participants. I do get some paid work from this sector but often being part of the projects is more rewarding than the payment. It is also a way to meet and work with other experts and enthusiasts and continue a learning cycle, as technology changes or data becomes available a better understanding of our environment becomes possible.

I believe strongly that research is only useful if it’s disseminated. Writing up reports, statements of significance, putting together a complex puzzle and creating a story for others to enjoy and develop an understanding of the spaces they are walking through. In doing this there are fewer gaps in our understanding, but always space for more research, technology could change the story in the future by finding information that couldn’t be seen when the original reports were written.

Historic gardens and landscape research offer a chance to combine multiple disciplines, horticulture, landscape archaeology and archival research into one, allowing me to walk through a space looking at it from a host of different perspectives. Being part of Essex Gardens Trust has taken me on many adventures through time in search of understanding, sometimes it has created more questions than it answered, but that is how we identify the gaps in our knowledge and change our approach.

Most recently, I have loved being a part of the Land of the Fanns training project with the Gardens Trust and the Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme. It has opened my eyes up to an area I have known for many years but never really explored. I had family in Harold Hill but never known of Dagnam Park until last year; I worked at Bedford Park many years ago but never really understood the landscape I was working in. This is why getting involved through volunteering has so many positive aspects, and can lead to opportunities that may not appear if you don’t get involved.

Favourite landscape

My favourite historic landscapes is Thorndon Park. I have memories of going there with my parents for picnics, kicking a football around with friends, walking the dogs when I was younger, and it’s a complicated landscape with several phases of development.  I have surveyed, researched and help record parts of this site, which holds memories of growing up the local area.”

Essex Gardens Trust

Val Hepworth
Yorkshire Gardens Trust volunteer

Val Hepworth, Yorkshire Gardens Trust volunteer Photo: North East Life

“Originally a botanist, microbiologist and teacher, I returned to University as a mature student to study the conservation of historic parks and gardens at York. This led to being a founder of the Yorkshire Gardens Trust in 1995, (a charitable trust with more than 300 members throughout Yorkshire, dedicated to the conservation, understanding and promotion of our historic parks and gardens.)

Why I volunteer

I love volunteering because you meet all sorts of people and by trying to help them, hope to improve their lives. It is a 2-way street: as a volunteer you learn a lot, enrich your life too and hopefully make a difference.  It’s the way that I try and pay back for what I have. I’m passionate about the value of parks and gardens for all: everyone has a right to green space for their health, enjoyment and sheer joy of being outside amongst plants and nature.

I love leading guided walks in historic landscapes and sharing my enthusiasm. I’ve loved helping children plants crocus corms in the rain, giving out YGT grants to help primary schools – eg for an outdoor kitchen at Penistone near Sheffield, again on a rainy lunchtime with enthusiastic children showing me their efforts, and taking my granddaughter aged 3 – and YGT Conservation grants to Friends of public parks. It’s a small way of encouraging and helping sustain the future of our historic parks and gardens and encouraging those who will come after us. Perhaps my most unusual memory is addressing more than 100 young infantrymen who were on work placement to help repair a landscape and being saluted and called Ma’am. Of all of this though, I’m most proud of all the planning application advice for Yorkshire’s historic parks and gardens that the YGT Conservation team give weekly and which I lead. It’s another way to try and influence a better future for our parks and gardens when development is being proposed that could threaten their very survival.

Favourite landscape

It’s difficult to single out one historic park or garden, but probably the one that has been most influential is Temple Grounds at Richmond in North Yorkshire, where I live.  It’s a small historic designed landscape dating from the medieval period situated in Richmond Town Conservation Area, which had become very run down.  I’ve been involved with its repair and conservation since 1992 when I met the new owners, began researching it for my Masters degree and subsequently wrote the management plan, helping them ever since.

Between us we have not only improved the floral diversity – Pennine Dales Hay Meadow – replanted trees, rebuilt walls, repaired listed buildings etc but enabled the community to visit and enjoy its wonderful history and scenery. We’ve had outdoor theatrical productions, school visits and local festival and Gardens Trusts’ guided walks.”

Yorkshire Gardens Trust

Letitia Yetman
Volunteer manager of the Gardens Trust’s Facebook group

Letitia Yetman
Letitia Yetman, manager of the Garden Trust Facebook group

I was a Chartered Town Planner, working Development Control, keen gardener and garden visitor, originally from London, then Hampshire, prior to moving to the Devon-Cornwall border.

Why I volunteer

Being an active member of the Hampshire Gardens Trust with Gilly Drummond led on to volunteering for the Garden History Society, now the Gardens Trust, where I was Membership Secretary from 2000-2006. As a member of four Gardens Trusts and the GHS, I have taken part in dozens of garden visits, conferences, lectures and trips, which has fed my passion for plants and gardens of all types.

In 2015, I helped set up and manage the GT Facebook group with the aim of reaching a different and additional audience, and providing an eclectic mix of material to suit all sections of the Gardens Trust community worldwide and possibly attracting new members to the Gardens Trust.

Volunteering for various different organisations, many at a local level, gives me a chance to give something back to the community and make a difference to people, at the same time as building on my own skills and knowledge, and in the case of the Gardens Trust, of all aspects of gardens and their history. With the GT Facebook group, I hope to encourage, inform and broaden members knowledge of plants, gardens, history and design, whilst using pictures and photographs as illustration ,with the added extra of providing attractive visual interest as a means of encouragement, with the occasional light-hearted item.

Favourite landscape

My favourite garden is the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. It is the fabulous combination of location, setting, architecture from different cultures and timeframes, along with the generous use of water, and beautiful gardens which makes it so special for me.

Barbara Deason
London Parks and Gardens Trust researcher

Volunteer Barbara Season at Springfield Park in London
Barbara Deason, volunteer researcher for London Parks and Gardens Trust

I started volunteering after studying garden history at Birkbeck, University of London shortly after retiring. Whilst studying I joined the Birkbeck Garden History Group and was subsequently invited to join their committee where I am now Treasurer and manage their website.

Why I volunteer

This led me to offer myself as a volunteer with London Parks & Gardens Trust (LPGT) as a research volunteer which enabled me to indulge my continuing interest in the history of gardens for the benefit not just of myself but for LPGT.

It was through the LPGT Research Group that I was involved in publishing ‘Repton in London’ and subsequently found myself, somewhat accidently, leading on the LPGT pilot as part of the GT Sharing Repton project, during which we ran introductory conservation workshops for groups including the Bangladeshi Women’s Association, the Barnet Refugee Association, and local residents close to a surviving Repton landscape at Barn Hill in Wembley. I think I took this on as I quite like organising things and basically enjoy a challenge! It enabled me to utilise the skills I had developed during my working life as a community development worker, which is very much about giving people the opportunities, confidence and skills to work together to achieve their goals and aspirations.

Favourite landscape

I love visiting gardens, whether large or small, historic or modern, and finding out about the people who inspired or created them; and of course just enjoying the green space, the trees, the flowers and the sense of well-being they engender: my local park – Springfield Park- is a fine example of such a space and has been a godsend during the constraints of COVID-19.

Elaine Taylor
Volunteer founder of Lancashire Gardens Trust

Volunteer Elaine Taylor
Elaine Taylor, volunteer founder of Lancashire Gardens Trust

I have always loved gardens and flowers since childhood, and an early memory is a visit to an aunt’s house, once owned by George Formby, when I drew a ground plan on my return home. I was thrilled to be one of the team which built an exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show for the Hardy Plant Society.

Following retirement from teaching I enlisted for the course in Historic Garden Design at Manchester Metropolitan University, and loved it so much that I carried on to study for a Masters in Landscape History at Chester University.

Why I volunteer

I volunteer with Lancashire Gardens Trust, and with five public parks and gardens in the county. Volunteering has always been in my family. Involvement in historic landscapes is most rewarding because it draws in so many interests – garden design, horticulture, architecture and social history. There is the excitement of discovering hidden paths and ponds long-since forgotten; the thrill of restoring even a small part of a distinctive design; the enjoyment of sharing your enthusiasm with others and working together towards a goal.

What can we achieve? I strive to save worthy historic gardens, particularly in the north west where there is intense pressure for new building. Our Conservation & Planning group monitors applications closely and has achieved some successes where plans might have caused harm, and when people ask me how to write a statement of significance I reply: ‘Imagine the bulldozer is waiting at the gate’.

Favourite landscape

My favourite garden is Rydal Hall, Cumbria, designed by Thomas Mawson in 1905 for the le Fleming family. Mawson was at the top of his form: he used the wide, elegant Georgian mansion as the stage scenery, and arranged his components – raised terrace, sunken lawns, splashing fountain and colourful borders – in strict classical style beneath it. The true genius strikes us as we turn our back to the house and see the ring of Lakeland hills crowding around us. Their presence is palpable and Mawson knew how to use them for dramatic effect.

During recent years the opportunities for projects have been many, accompanying Lottery-funded restorations and working on county research. In 2017 I led a group of eight researchers in LGT to discover Lancashire’s special War Memorial Parks and Gardens of Remembrance; we described 30 which displayed a wide variety of styles and included monuments by sculptors of national renown. Two of the monuments were uplifted to a Grade II* on the Register of Parks and Gardens. We were saddened by the condition of some parks, knowing they really needed a Friends group.

The greatest challenge is always the most memorable. In 2019 Hulton Park, Bolton, was the subject of a Public Inquiry which lasted 3 weeks. The applicants were required to prove that their proposal demonstrated ‘very special circumstances’ in order to mitigate the substantial harm to the Grade II park, largely unchanged as a landscape for 800 years and a rare survivor in an urbanised and industrialised district. I argued that, as 1 of only 4 ancient sites in all Greater Manchester, the park was rare and exceptional. My added advantage was the recent discovery in the Hulton archive of the bill, dated 1765, signed by the designer William Emes and listing the works he undertook with the costs. We await the Secretary of State’s decision.

The discovery of such a rare treasure gladdens the heart of every garden historian and raises volunteering to a high-octane sport!

Thank you to all our wonderful volunteers! If you, too, would like to volunteer please contact

Image top left: Elaine Taylor and other Lancashire Gardens Trust volunteers planting foxgloves in Rivington Terrace Garden

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