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Restoring Established Ornamental Gardens

Course CodeBHT243
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Discover what it takes to Recreate Old Gardens

Restoring established gardens is not always a simple task. The original planting design of any garden will commonly change over time. When you are faced with the task of restoring an old garden, it may be a significant challenge to discover and recreate plantings as close to the original design as possible. You must, as far as possible, determine what was previously planted and how it was arranged. This might involve accessing old records such as plant lists or plans where they exist, or old photographs.

Become skilled in garden restoration

Take this course to learn about how to restore old gardens to closely resemble the original. Find out how an understanding of garden history and styles can be significant and different ways to access records. Learn how to measure up a site, assess its current plants and hard landscape features, and decide what should be retained. Find out how to plan a restoration project and conduct risk assessments.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Landscape History & Design Styles
  2. Surveying the Site
  3. Assessment of Plantings and Features
  4. Selecting Components for Retention
  5. Work Programming and Risk Management
  6. Drainage
  7. Hard Landscape Feature Restoration
  8. Planting Restoration and Maintenance

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Outline the history of UK garden design and the influence of plant introductions.
  • Evaluate an established ornamental garden in order to determine any particular design style period, or plants of interest.
  • Describe basic methods for the survey and recording of the layout and content of an established garden, and explain the importance of detailed information including assessment of site factors.
  • Explain processes and the need for assessment and recording of the type, condition and future potential of a range of plantings and features in an ornamental garden.
  • Explain the main criteria used to select plantings and features for retention in a restored garden.
  • Explain the need and processes of analysis of collected information.
  • Prepare a summarised programme for organisation of garden restoration work
  • Assess risk and identify safe work practices
  • Recognise and explain the visible signs of the failure of old land drainage systems and describe remedial measures
  • Describe and explain the practical procedures necessary for the restoration of a range of hard landscape features.
  • Explain problems which may be encountered in the improvement of retained hedges, plantings and lawns.
  • Describe practical solutions for improving retained hedges, plantings and lawns
  • Evaluate the use of modern maintenance techniques in established gardens

Replacing an Old Hedge

Sometimes the plants in a hedge are beyond restoration – the hedge may have been damaged by fire or disease. When restoring an old garden you may need to replace the existing hedge or put in a new hedge where an old one grew in the past.

  • Hedges and neighbourhood Disputes
  • Hedges can cause disputes with neighbours. When re-planting a hedge:
  • Make sure that when fully grown (in width) it will be well within the garden and doesn’t encroach on neighbouring properties. Remember that any encroaching plant material including roots may be removed by the neighbours.
  • Choose plants that are easier to keep to a certain height so as to not over-shadow and exclude light to neighbouring properties or gardens in the future.
  • Make sure that a new hedge will not deprive neighbours of an important view.
  • Some hedges may need planning permission for removal.

Plant Choice

Some plants such as some conifers, will not tolerate constant cutting; and others simply do not develop dense, even growth. The best hedging plants usually have small leaves; though for larger hedges, larger leaved plants may be acceptable. A large hedge will require a lot of plants - which is expensive; difficult-to-grow plants may be less desirable economically. However when replacing an old hedge in a garden restoration project it is best to choose the plants that were used originally, if at all possible or practical.

In choosing the plants, consider the following:

  • Is the hedge to be evergreen or deciduous? Deciduous and many evergreen hedging plants can be pruned more regularly and vigorously then some conifers which die back if you cut into old wood.
  • Informal or formal? Formal hedges need to be clipped frequently so choose a species that will tolerate frequent cutting.
  • Height - consider the plant’s natural size at maturity – for a 1 m high hedge, don’t choose plants which naturally grow to 3 or 4 m. 
  • Density - a more open hedge will give better air circulation but less privacy.
  • What size plants are to be used? Advanced plants can be very expensive but will give an almost instant effect; smaller plants are cheaper and often give better results in the long run.
  • Quick effect - many fast-growing plants will rapidly develop into a dense hedge but will require frequent clipping to maintain a tidy shape. Some may also be short-lived.
  • For a uniform hedge - buy sturdy plants of around the same size. Branching is important so it’s best to select plants dense, bushy plants to get the hedge off to a good start.
  • Slow growing plants are often longer lived then fast growers.
  • Pruning - hedges such as Taxus and Juniperus have narrow leaves and make excellent hedges that rarely need more than one pruning; usually in early spring a follow up pruning in autumn is sometimes required in temperate areasSpruce and pine should not be cut further then the current year’s growth – prune back only part of the current growth each year.  Viburnum and buckthorn are easily shaped into an arch.

Preparing the Site

The secret to a successful hedge is correct soil preparation. Once you have decided where the replacement hedge is to grow set up a string line to mark the planting positions. Dig a trench along the entire length, and add well rotted organic matter to the soil. Leave for a month or so to allow the soil to settle before planting.


To establish a straight hedge, set up a string line and dig a trench along the length of the proposed hedge. Improve the soil with organic matter and fertiliser. Plant the shrubs/trees at the desired intervals, then water and mulch.

Depending on the size (and species) of the new plants, training should be started immediately:

  • Cut back about 1/3 of the growth to encourage dense, new growth.
  • Trim the plants lightly to maintain shape and density but wait until the second year before giving another hard prune (ie. removing 1/3 off the height).
  • Once the hedge has reached the desired height, trim it two or three times each season. This is especially important for conifers, which need regular light trimming rather than hard cutting. 

Spacing Plants

Work out how many plants are needed – the spacings will be much closer than is normally recommended for plants grown in the open; for example, small-leaved box and lavender are spaced about 30 cm apart and Leyland cypress about 75 cm apart.

Hedge Trimming

  • Put pegs in at either end, stretch a string line at the desired height then trim to the line to ensure a straight edge.
  • Line up the edge with an object at the end of the hedge
  • Mark a line on the ground at the hedge base with lime.
  • Cut a little bit at a time, stand back, evaluate, and only then cut more. (You can always take more off, but you can’t put it back after removing it!)

The base of the hedge should be clipped slightly broader than the top, with an even taper from the bottom to the top. This allows better light penetration to the lower parts of the hedge, resulting in more even foliage growth.


Opportunities Post-studies

This course is likely to be of value to people who have an interest in garden restoration or conservation. It will also appeal to anyone with a general interest in garden history and design.

People who take this course are most likely those working in or aspiring to work in:

Garden restoration
Garden conservation
Garden design
Parks & gardens
Botanical gardens
Garden maintenance

The course will also be of value to people wishing to include garden restoration as a service within an existing gardening or landscaping business.


We hope we have provided you with enough information on the course but if you do have questions please click here.


Meet some of our academics

John Mason Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant. Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and editor for 4 different gardening magazines. John has been recognised by his peers being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture in the UK, as well as by the Australian Institute of Horticulture.
Diana Cole B.A. (Hons), Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector), P.D.C. In addition to the qualifications listed above, Diana holds City & Guild construction qualifications and an NPTC pesticide spraying licence (PA1/PA6). Diana runs her own landscape gardening business (Arbella Gardens). Active in many organisations including the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.
Yvonne SharpeRHS Cert.Hort, Dip.Hort, M.Hort, Cert.Ed., Dip.Mgt. Over 30 years experience in business, education, management and horticulture. Former department head at a UK government vocational college. Yvonne has traveled widely within and beyond Europe, and has worked in many areas of horticulture from garden centres to horticultural therapy. She has served on industry committees and been actively involved with amateur garden clubs for decades.
Timothy WalkerB.A.(Botany), RHS.M. Hort., P.G.Dip.Ed.

Check out our eBooks

Scented PlantsScented plants can be either a delight or a curse. For many people, there is nothing more pleasing than a garden filled with fragrance, but for others who suffer allergies, certain plants can make them physically ill; sometimes very seriously.
Trees and ShrubsA great little encyclopaedia that is valuable for students, tradespeople, or the home gardener needing a quick reference when selecting garden plants. It covers the care and culture of 140 commonly grown genera of trees and shrub, plus many hundreds of species and cultivars. 169 colour photos 94 pages
What to Plant WhereA great guide for choosing the right plant for a particular position in the garden. Thirteen chapters cover: plant selection, establishment, problems, and plants for wet areas. Shade, hedges and screens, dry gardens, coastal areas, small gardens, trees and shrubs, lawns and garden art.
Water Gardening This book is designed to inspire and educate presenting you with a wide range of possibilities and at the same time, raising your awareness and understanding of how water can be used in any size garden to add interest, coolness and life.