Suffolk’s Unforgettable Garden Story

Volunteer recording a historic designed landscape as part of our Suffolk’s Unforgettable Garden Story project.

Suffolk’s Unforgettable Garden Story was a successful Gardens Trust and Suffolk Gardens Trust project, which recruited volunteers and trained them to research and record historic landscapes.

Funded by Historic England, the project helped tell the stories of more than 20 Suffolk parks and gardens through detailed research reports compiled by volunteers, including some who had never previously undertaken historic research. The project brought attention to the value of the county’s historic designed landscapes and so far has resulted in the registration of 7 new sites on Historic England’s National Heritage List for England.

Local volunteer expertise

Over 18 months, we worked closely with Suffolk Gardens Trust to recruit, train and support more than 20 volunteers to research and record local historic landscapes. We wanted to draw on local knowledge and expertise to help ensure that these landscapes at risk are better understood and protected.

The aims of the project were to:

  • Compile a list of significant but non-designated landscapes that are not already included on Historic England’s Register of Parks and Gardens.
  • Research these sites and submit the information to the National Heritage List for England, as well as Historic Environment Records and other local lists.

One of the volunteers who took part in the project said “I’ve had an enjoyable time exploring the history of various Suffolk parks and gardens and meeting other volunteers. The momentum created by the project is hugely valuable, resulting in the formation of a long term group which will continue to research and record these designed landscapes. The training offered was excellent and it has been interesting learning about the complexities of the listing process that is intended to protect these important Suffolk sites for future generations.”

Two women standing in front of a wall containing multiple black and white photos of Thorpness and some teacups and saucers on a sideboard.

Volunteers at Thorpeness Heritage Centre

Fascinating research that protects landscapes

The project has helped uncover the stories of more than twenty historic parks and gardens, told in detailed research reports which will soon be published on the Suffolk Gardens Trust website.

The newly protected parks and gardens include:

Three volunteers have already shared some of their research and described their experiences on the project in articles published on our website – “Raring to go with the Research” by Gillian Childs; the “Hanging Gardens of Lowestoft by Susan Steward; and Henry Grainger and Kate Reddington’s experience researching Benton End.

Woman in winter coat and red bobble hat reading an interpretation panel about the history of Thornham Hall and the surrounding landscape.

Volunteer visiting Thornham Hall

Legacy

Volunteers in Suffolk are keen to continue recording sites and will continue their campaign to add more historic designed landscapes to the National Heritage List for England.

Edward Martin, Chairman of the Suffolk Gardens Trust said “The SUGS project has been a wonderful opportunity to focus new attention on Suffolk’s rich garden heritage and to involve volunteers in actively researching and reporting on sites to make them truly ‘unforgettable’. It has been exciting waiting to see which sites would qualify for recognition at a national level and we are very pleased to see a growing number of Suffolk sites that are achieving that status. But we are already taking steps to ensure that, recognition or not, the Suffolk gardens and designed landscapes with interesting stories will not be forgotten – keep an eye on the SGT website!”

In addition to conducting ongoing research, the group will be continuing to meet-up in person and visit landscapes in Suffolk as often as possible, to keep the research group active for the long term.

Historic England Landscape Architect Christopher Laine also said “It’s been wonderful to see the passion and dedication of people in Suffolk to discover and celebrate local historic landscapes. Working together, we’ve learned so much more about the wonderful green spaces in Suffolk, and I’m delighted that we have such fascinating research and newly protected historic landscapes as a result of this project. That the research will continue is a huge testament to the enthusiasm of the brilliant volunteers, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they discover next.”

If you would like to be involved at any level – in research, writing, making the research accessible for wider audiences or any other areas of Suffolk Gardens Trust activities, the research group would love to hear from you. For more information email: suffolkgt.research@gmail.com

We’re also replicating the project in more counties across England, most recently in Nottinghamshire. If you’re interested in running an Unforgettable Garden Story research and recording project in your area, take a look at the resources on our Resource Hub or get in touch.