Securing the Future of Heritage Landscapes
Living landscapes are a reflection of the past and an investment in the future, but they are only sustainable through continuing regeneration. A better understanding of landscapes and their features, and greater landscape input into heritage plans will help secure a meaningful future for our significant trees, parks, gardens and designed environments, helping people and organisations meet increasing environmental pressures and adapt to changes in aspirations and use.
Across Australia, landscapes feature prominently in many of our most important and loved heritage places. Heritage landscapes show how people have thought about, used and ordered the environment. They reflect ever-changing responses, functional needs and cultural tastes. Local, state and national heritage listings include many landscapes, and it is appropriate that landscapes are frequently the subject of considerable community interest in relation to their recognition, protection and conservation.
Gardens and ornamental environments, and competency in handling them, has been a major focus for landholders and urban developers, as well as material for expressions of civic value and community self-concept. This remains so today. Landscape forms and aspirations have evolved, at various times reflecting access to specific networks of botanical exchange, demonstrating command of formal order or mandating particular outcomes, such as the use of native plants as national and moral imperatives.
These enduring and often contradictory trends — and other themes and values of recognised significance — are evident in our heritage landscapes. Safeguarding and regenerating these landscapes requires detailed understanding of how they work, and dedicated effort and new responses to address the issues that confront them today.
ASSESSING LANDSCAPES AND THEIR FEATURES
Few historical landscapes come to us ‘intact’ or as they were designed. While many large trees may live a century or more, the lives of smaller plants are typically measured in years or decades at most. Usage and design aesthetics change similarly. New priorities intervene and in the evolution of a designed landscape’s character, materials and uses, its values may be undermined, or alternatively, deepened.
The passage of time takes its toll. For example, the widely-valued 19th century tree plantings that contribute so much of the heritage character to our parks, avenues and large gardens are entering senescence and unavoidable decline because of their age and a changing environment. In addition, the grounds beneath them and the systems of organisation that guided their planting may have been extensively altered.
In relation to landscape heritage assessment, we are increasingly using forensic evaluation to provide clarity on the organisational structure of a design and the provenance of its features. A traditional approach focuses on historical accounts, an understanding of typical plant performance and knowledge of earlier management practices. Working forensically, it is often possible to improve the understanding of when trees or other features were installed, their purpose in the scheme and whether they relate to the ascribed significance of the landscape.
Unpicking the life histories of heritage landscapes and making sense of the changes that have shaped them are vital tasks in ensuring that heritage controls and conservation/management actions are appropriate. In this way, a landscape’s significant features and values can be addressed, and maintenance/regeneration efforts can be directed to achieving optimal heritage outcomes.
MANAGING CHANGE IN HERITAGE LANDSCAPES
Public and private landscapes face enormous challenges, including the impacts of climate change, cyclical drought, plant senescence and the impacts of changing use and intensity of use — from soil compaction to arboricultural risk management. There is also an increasing need to find balanced resolutions to public ambitions such as ecological restoration, and reconciliation with the cultural values and aspirations of traditional owners. Guidance is vital.
Indiscriminately placing protective hold on heritage trees and original landscape features may not on its own preserve their values. Management and renewal planning is needed. Indeed, tightly drawn protection may act in ways contrary to the values of landscapes and features, or the methods used in their creation. Even where an important designer has been involved in a site’s history, gardening and land management need to continue to be curatorial and iterative.
The defining task for heritage management is finding a balance that maintains and regenerates the significance of a landscape while accommodating contemporary uses. This presents tough choices concerning aging trees and underperforming gardens. It may mean accepting substantial and ongoing change, and renewal in relation to the physical, aesthetic and functional characteristics from which a particular landscape’s heritage significance derives.
Sound conservation management and responsive landscape architecture are required. Incorporating a robust understanding of landscape values into heritage assessments, conservation and heritage management plans, tree replacement plans and other management documents, and into master planning and landscape architectural design, will help empower people and organisations to achieve the regeneration of significant landscapes in order to secure their futures.
By working across the breadth of heritage planning and design practice, the challenges of heritage landscape management can be addressed more effectively, enabling the regeneration of a place’s heritage values for a new century.
For more information about working with Lovell Chen on a project involving a heritage landscape or features, contact:
TEL +61 (0)3 9667 0800
top photo : Carlton Gardens, Melbourne, courtesy State Library of Victoria