Capability Brown’s birthday year has been a busy one for everyone, but as it approaches a close, these two garden historians at least can’t help but feel that it has marked a sea-change that means the best is still to come.
One thing that has been striking about the Festival has been the showcasing of fresh approaches to garden history interpretation with all kinds of fun and engaging initiatives. We are determined to help continue this momentum and ensure that 2016 will be remembered as the year when historic garden visiting most definitely took an irreversible turn for the better. Experiencing Arcadia is a project of passion, set up to encourage historic garden staff to be bolder in their approaches to interpretation. It grew from a personal belief that general interest visitors, especially those of younger generations were often being sidelined. Although some sites are embracing new methods of interpretation and engagement, this is far from the norm for most of the sector. Our approach, which involves innovative but simple digital technologies to introduce visitors to the most amusing moving and human of garden history stories could add an affordable offer to this mix.
Experiencing Arcadia were fortunate to receive funding from the Finnis Scott Foundation which has enabled this 2016 pilot. So far we have created a digital interactive map of an idealised 18th century landscape. From the comfort of their sofa, visitors can click on each feature of the map and be treated to stories from the archive, audio or visual material to bring garden history alive. As this is a pilot, we have focused on a website which is best viewed on a desktop computer or laptop, but learning from this, we are now working on the bigger challenge of producing a version that is compatible with mobile phones or tablets, and also as an app so that the digital can also be experienced on foot in the landscape.
Our Festival year has been filled with searching historic archives for the cheeky bits of garden history, dressing up in 18th century clothes, and much brow-furrowing as our tech guy talked us through the nitty gritty of building websites.
Please take a look at the site at www.experiencingarcadia.org (desktop version). We particularly recommend you visit the Lawn as we have built this section to showcase the full range of Experiencing Arcadia’s possibilities, from listening to authentic music as you take an 18th century stroll, via a video showing how children would have played with hoops, and finally to instructions for playing quoits. We’ve had quite a bit of fun with the Bowling Green too, adding the sound of a boisterous match to a garden feature that in the 21st century is most often abandoned or lacking any indication of how much fun was had when it was used.
We very much hope that the potential of Experiencing Arcadia excites you as much as it does us. Do please get in touch if you’d like to hear more, or for a copy of a free Experiencing Arcadia booklet firstname.lastname@example.org
Authors: Clare Hickman and Linden Groves, Experiencing Arcadia