Experiencing Arcadia

Have you ever visited a historic garden and wondered how people experienced it in the past? Ever pondered what it was like to see the landscape while on horseback? Many historic landscapes today focus on the aesthetic features of gardens and interpretation sometimes extends to information about designers and the dates of features but not much further. But just think how much fun was had visiting these gardens when there were musicians, games, fireworks, poetry readings, feasts, miniature naval battles on the lake and noisy menageries! And what was it like to experience the garden at night or if you were a child or a perhaps woman in an unwieldy dress and unsuitable shoes?


The Experiencing Arcadia project (by partners in garden history crime, Linden Groves and Clare Hickman) is funded by the Finnis-Scott Foundation and will use digital resources to look at engaging 21st century garden enthusiasts with the experiences of their counterparts in the past. And especially to give some answers to the questions posed above! We will use people’s accounts of gardens in diaries, letters and other documents to give an insight into the experiences of earlier generations, and introduce children and grown-ups back into the historic landscape. And we’re not just talking about posh people – we will most definitely be getting to know the past’s more humble inhabitants of the landscape, from gardeners and agricultural workers to sheep and cows.


To tie-in with the Capability Brown Tercentenary in 2016 we are initially focussing on eighteenth-century British landscapes but there is definitely scope to develop this exciting initiative for other times and places. In the first phase we will develop a digital resource that will offer new approaches to generic landscape interpretation, but next we will develop place-specific apps and other immersive garden events. Not only will Experiencing Arcadia give today’s garden visitors an insight into the 18th century garden visiting experience, but we wish to spark and inform fresh thinking amongst historic garden managers about new ways in which gardens can be interpreted.


Watch this space for future developments!


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Image Credit: © Trustees of the British Museum. British 1700-1750. Unmounted fan-leaf, with ladies and gentlemen walking in a garden.

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