Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Historic Tasmanian Gardens

The ICOMOS-IFLA International Committee for Historic Gardens meeting in Florence in May 1981 drew up a charter on the preservation of historic gardens. The document is known as the Florence Charter. The charter in Article 1 defines an historic garden as “an architectural and horticultural composition of interest to the public from the historical or artistic point of view. As such, it is to be considered as a monument.”

The charter goes on to identify principles for the maintenance and conservation of gardens, their restoration and reconstruction. Legal and administrative protections are also outlined. Use of historic gardens is also discussed.

“Art. 18. While any historic garden is designed to be seen and walked about in, access to it must be restricted to the extent demanded by its size and vulnerability, so that its physical fabric and cultural message may be preserved.”

“Art. 19. By reason of its nature and purpose, an historic garden is a peaceful place conducive to human contacts, silence and awareness of nature. This conception of its everyday use must contrast with its role on those rare occasions when it accomodates a festivity. Thus, the conditions of such occasional use of an historic garden should be clearly defined, in order that any such festivity may itself serve to enhance the visual effect of the garden instead of perverting or damaging it.”

The charter concludes with “Nota bene”, or take notice: “The above recommendations are applicable to all the historic gardens in the world.”

Michael Seiler in Pleasure gardens garden pleasures – Germany’s most beautiful historical gardens (Verlag Schnell & Steiner GmbH, 2003, pp.10-11) states that “It is often not actually misunderstanding but the great pressure of utilization needs, which threaten the substance of historical gardens”.

“Neglected care, misunderstanding or inability to recognise the nature of the historical garden may lead to wrongful consideration of the garden as just some green area, which may be used in a new, substance and image destroying manner, such as for barbeques, playing, cycling etc.”

I mention all this because Tasmania’s pre-eminent historic garden, and one of Australia’s finest, the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens situated on the Domain in Hobart, appears to be rapidly evolving into a pleasure park, with endless shows, film screenings and rock concerts.

According to the RTBG website, by the end of summer the gardens will have hosted Cinema of the Stars for over three months, Theatre Big Monkey for nearly two months, the Southern Blues and Roots Festival and the John Butler Trio and the Waifs.

I understand there are budget pressures and Goal 7 of the RTBG’s Strategic Goals is “To reposition as one of the top Tasmanian attractions in terms of number visits and level of awareness”. To some it may appear that the intrinsic historic and cultural significance of the gardens is being diminished by the current focus on overt cultural events accompanied by masses of people.

This historic garden sadly is no longer “a peaceful place conducive to human contacts, silence and awareness of nature”.

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