Issue date: 16 August 2001

Visiting historic gardens attracts huge public interest, combining as it does twin passions for gardening and history. For many enthusiasts, being able to compare two historic gardens - and learn about how they were designed, the plants chosen, and how they change with the seasons could be a dream come true.

A UWE project will provide just such in-depth information, by linking the gardens of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, with the Chateau de Villandry on the Loire in France. Researchers from the university's Faculty of the Built Environment will install digital video cameras high up on the buildings, overlooking the grounds, sending a continuous stream of images to video screens in the visitors' centres.

This means that visitors to either attraction can see what is happening at the other site, and can also see archived film to find out what the gardens look like at other seasons of the year. UWE staff intend to programme the cameras from Bristol, allowing them to zoom in, script identical film sequences, or set up video conferencing sessions.

Web-based images will allow people who are unable to travel to enjoy the gardens in all their glory. Details of the plants and trees growing could have real benefits for the curators, too: it has been found that many gardens do not have adequate records to assist accurate reconstruction, particularly following the great storms of recent years.

Further developments could include allowing viewers to freeze frames they are interested in, and interrogate a linked database for underlying information such as wheelchair access, the botanical name of a particular plant - even whether it was possible to purchase a replica statue or item of garden furniture!

UWE has been offered 116,000 ecus from the European Union's newly created fund for preserving cultural heritage using digital media. The project is being run in collaboration with the Gardeners Exchange Trust. Several future avenues are possible for applying the technology.

John Counsell, who is leading the project for UWE, says, “This project is a model for capturing information in sites that are subject to change – such as an archaeological dig or a building site. It would, for example, enable all members of a team to see the progress of a project even if they could not be present.”

John says the project also has an important role to play in preserving our cultural heritage, “It is vital that historic gardens which are one of the most threatened aspects of our cultural heritage are properly recorded. This system provides just such a record with detailed and up to date information. These archived records could provide valuable information for educational purposes – for example for teachers to prepare pupils before visiting such sites.”

The project is scheduled to start in October and will run for 12 months.


Editor's notes

24 awards were made to European institutions by the European Union as part of its scheme for preserving cultural heritage using digital media. Of these, two were awarded to UWE's Faculty of the Built Environment.

Jpeg images available upon request from Jayne.Andrews@uwe.ac.uk

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