Northwest Europe and EGHN

European Garden Heritage Network

There are parks and gardens in every region of Europe. Some are of international cultural and historical significance, others rather of regional importance. Some are of interest because of their outstanding collections of plants, others due to their overall design or the history of those who lived and worked there. Each place offers the visitor an experience of a different kind, whereby the surrounding cultural landscape has an effect on the visitor's expectations and mood. The visitor approaches a garden at the Loire, in the heat of Spain or at the lakes of Northern Italy differently to a garden set in the hills of an English landscape or located in the flat landscape of the Lower Rhine.

Considering this background of diversity, it was an advantage rather than a disadvantage for the European Garden Heritage Network that support for it from the INTERREG-IIIB Programme for Northwest Europe meant that its sphere of work was first confined to Great Britain and Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg as well as parts of France and Germany. Similarly, it was advantageous that a further restriction occurred through the choice of the first partners from Great Britain, France and Germany. It is, however, agreed by all partners that this spatial restriction should be removed in the future.

Northwest Europe forms a heartland for the development of garden design. It was here that the different eras and styles of gardens developed (e.g. of English and French gardens). There is a long list of outstanding gardens which are well-known in the international gardening world and amongst garden lovers.

For the partners and supporters of the EGHN, it is mainly the lesser-known parks and gardens which are the focus of attention. This is not just because they are worth discovering but also because they can offer each visitor a pleasant stay and uninterrupted enjoyment. Furthermore, they have the potential to be developed further and to play a role as valuable assets for the region. There are many parks and gardens of this kind. For England alone, the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England (administered by English Heritage) lists almost 1,450 parks and gardens. Surveys in North Rhine-Westphalia also document an astonishingly high number of accessible historical gardens.

The INTERREG-IIIB Programme for Northwest Europe explicitly mentions the significance of historical surroundings and provides financial resources for the protection and creative enhancement of historical sites, monuments and cultural landscapes. Fostering cultural heritage as a potential for economic development is only one aspect of this. In addition, the programme has the goal of strengthening local and regional identity and emphasising and supporting culture as an essential element in the development of society.

In doing this, the INTERREGG-IIIB programme concerns itself at an early stage with trends which are only beginning to gain acceptance in planning and development concepts and in the political arena and society: cultural heritage and monuments as well as the cultural landscape in general are not just worthy of protection in their own right. They can also function as assets of special quality which can be used for sustainable regional development where the maxim of action is the balance between economics, ecology and social and cultural responsibility. Similarly, they can also stimulate or strengthen positive developments. The European Garden Heritage Network has developed this pioneering role of the INTERREG programme further in the sense that parks and gardens and the cultural landscape surrounding them are made the focus of its concepts and measures.

If one succeeds in raising awareness of the unique quality of parks and gardens, one increases the chances of receiving widespread support from the political and economic spheres as well as from the population in general, which in turn (mostly) leads to an increase in the availability of financial funds. Such awareness-raising can be achieved, for example, by developing new information and educational concepts, attracting new groups of visitors, improving accessibility and the quality of the visitor's stay as well as by integrating parks and gardens as parts of a cultural landscape and regional economy into concepts for local and regional development. Historical and new parks have diverse, often complementary potentials for this which need to be treated actively as valuable assets. Examples of these can already be found in the regions and in the parks and gardens of the EGHN. Building on these examples and using innovative ideas which arise from international co-operation, the European Garden Heritage Network develops and tests pilot projects with the intention of transferring these to other regions, hence contributing to the enhancement of parks and gardens beyond the partner regions and beyond Northwest Europe as well as to increased satisfaction among visitors to them.