Hahas and me

Why Hahahopscotch? Well, the hopscotch is a clear reference to a delight in children’s play, but the Haha is a less obvious clue to my other great passion … historic gardens.

(Already converted garden history fans – we’re a busy bunch, so skip my waffle about Hahas, and dance straight through to www.outdoorchildren.co.uk)

Naughty little children escaping the lawn through the ha ha (outrageously disrespectful behaviour in an important historic garden)

Ha has are one of the most marvellous , and best-named, garden features that you’re ever likely to find. They’re ditches carefully-designed to be invisible, sitting between garden and park (not at 20 Acacia Avenue, rather at Loftwofthough Towers) to keep the cattle and sheep on the pasture and off the lawn without the need for a big old ugly fence. (My theory – admittedly controversial and unsubstantiated – is that they were in fact intended to keep children in the safety of the garden, preventing them from straying into the wider realm of the park.)

On being told that I’m a landscape historian, no one ever just says “oh right, that’s interesting”. People always want to know more. So here’s what it’s all about – why there’s the Haha with the Hopscotch.

Gardens and parks have been around for thousands of years – Roman courtyards, medieval knot gardens, Elizabethan water gardens, Georgian landscape parks, formal Victorian showpieces, 20th century romantic borders… I love them all and the good news for me is that as a landscape historian I get to study them, conserve them, visit them and enjoy them!

For many years I worked on the fabulous magazine Historic Gardens Review (www.historicgardens.org), which celebrates historic gardens across the world. In 2010 I was fortunate to co-author a book, The Gardens of English Heritage, with the Review’s editor, Gillian Mawrey, who is my great garden history buddy. We won the Inspirational Garden Book of the Year Award!

Illustration from Beyond the Playground, by the fabulous Marie-Louise Plum

These days I work in the conservation team of The Garden History Society, helping to protect and conserve our heritage. For the GHS I wrote a conservation advice note on the tricky issue of incorporating playgrounds into historic landscapes, and this evolved into Beyond the Playground, a campaign to demonstrate that keeping children entertained in historic gardens can be as much about rolling down banks as it is about fancy new play equipment.

I was hooked on the subject of children in historic landscapes and went on to research the history of playgrounds in public parks for English Heritage, and of children’s play in gardens for the National Trust.

Currently, I’m enjoying a grand love affair with all things Wicksteed – celebrating Charles Wicksteed, an Edwardian pioneer of children’s play; Wicksteed Park, the free park he provided for children to enjoy fresh air and fun; and Wicksteed Leisure, the firm he founded that has supplied equipment to tens of thousands of playgrounds across the world.

Super-old wooden slide at Wicksteed Park!

Next on the horizon is the Sayes Court Garden project, where I am working with crazy pirates Bob Bagley and Roo Angell to grab kids’ imaginations and inspire them with the works of 17th century garden supremo John Evelyn!

Want to know more about my work with children and historic landscapes? Then I most cordially invite you to take a look at my website, www.outdoorchildren.co.uk, or get in touch at linden@outdoorchildren.co.uk

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