The National Archives Logo
Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 124
Last updated: 12 February 2005

1. Why use this guide?

This guide briefly describes:

  • how to search for records held in archives across the UK
  • the principal relevant repositories with strong collections relating to garden history
  • other useful links and general works of reference


2. Searching for records

Search Discovery, our catalogue, to find records from The National Archives and over 2,500 archives across the UK. You can refine your results using the filters.

Where the keywords you searched for appear in the description of a record, the search results are displayed under the 'Records' tab.

Where the keywords you searched for appear in the name of the institution or person that originally created the record (often not the same as the institution or person that currently holds the record), the search results are displayed under the 'Record creators' tab.

For further tips on searching see our catalogue help pages.


3. Relevant repositories

The following provides details of repositories and institutions that hold major collections relating to garden history.

Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BF

Holds the archives of the Linnean Society, founded in 1788, the papers of Carolus Linnaeus and manuscripts from contemporary naturalists such as William Swainson. The archive is therefore rich in 18th and early 19th century material and includes prints, watercolours and sketches. See the Catalogues of the manuscripts in the library of the Linnean Society of London (1934-1948).

English Heritage Archives, The Engine House, Fire Fly Avenue Swindon SN2 2EH

Formerly the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England (RCHME), now absorbed within English Heritage. Maintains the National Archaeological Record, including written reports, measured surveys, drawings and reports, as well as the record files of the RCHME dating from 1908. Also maintained by the RCHME are the National Library of Air Photos and a number of speciall collections of papers, including copies of a collection of Gertrude Jekyll's papers. See RCHME The National Monuments Record: a guide to the archive (1992).

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD

Holds a collection of manuscripts associated with scientists such as Sir Joseph Banks. Non-manuscript material includes watercolour paintings and sketches of natural history subjects and a collection of portraits of naturalists. See also Catalogue of the books, manuscripts, maps and drawings in the British Museum (Natural History) (8 volumes, 1903-1949).

The National Archives, Kew, Richmond TW9 4DU

Holds records of gardens in central government and royal custody, generated especially in the Office of Works; for example, WORK 16 contains files on the Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens. For a description of the history and records of works departments see department and series level information for WORK on Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, other national bodies and from over 2,500 archives across the UK.

Textual records, maps and plans are scattered throughout many different series of records. Consult our catalogue and the research guides Maps: further research and Architectural drawings.

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, The Library, Inverleith Row, Edinburgh EH3 5LR

Originally established in 1670 as a physic garden for growing and studying medicinal plants, it has developed as a distinctive focus within Scotland for world-wide botanical research and horticulture. Holds much historical published and unpublished material, the latter including the correspondence of George Forrest, Joseph Rock and others.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives, Kew, Richmond TW9 3AE

Holds letters, diaries, files and field notebooks of those botanists and horticulturists involved in the creation of Kew's plant collection, as well as the registered files of the garden itself.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), John Sinclair House, 16 Bernard, Edinburgh EH8 9NX

Maintains the National Monuments Record of Scotland, with similar archaeological responsibilities as English Heritage.

National Monuments Record of Wales, Crown Building, Plas Crug, Aberystwyth SY23 1NJ

Maintains the National Monuments Record of Wales, with similar archaeological responsibilities as English Heritage.

Royal Horticultural Society, The Lindley Library, 80 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE

Founded in 1804 to encourage the science, art and practice of horticulture in all its branches. It is now the world's leading horticultural organisation, with extremely active science and educational departments based at RHS Garden, Wisley. The Society is responsible for organising a number of shows, of which the Chelsea Flower Show is the most famous.

Besides the archives of the RHS, the Lindley Library holds the English Heritage Register of parks and gardens of special historic interest, and sets of gardening magazines, including The gardener's magazine and The gardener's chronicle.

Local record offices

These repositories have a fairly standard collection of estate, enclosure, tithe and Ordnance Survey maps for the area they cover, all of which may help in tracing the development of parks and gardens. They also usually have a good collection of prints, drawings, photographs and sale particulars, as well as the standard sources such as census and land tax returns. Contact details can be found using the Find an archive tool.

4. Useful links

Archives Hub

The Archives Hub provides a single point of access to descriptions of archives held in UK universities and colleges. At present these are primarily at collection-level, although where possible they are linked to complete catalogue descriptions.

Archives in London and the M25 area (AIM25)

AIM25 is a major project to provide electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over fifty higher education institutions and learned societies within the greater London area.

Association of Gardens Trusts

A national organization representing County Gardens Trusts that are actively engaged in conserving, researching, documenting and caring for the heritage of parks, gardens and designed landscapes.

Garden History Society

This Society promotes the study of the history of gardening, landscape gardening and horticulture.

London Gardens Online

The largest and most comprehensive survey of parks and gardens of local historic interest in the capital.

Garden Museum 

The Garden Museum celebrates the design, history and art of gardens.

National Trust

Maintains many historic gardens noted on the UK Database of Historic Parks and Gardens.

Scottish Archive Network (SCAN)

The Scottish Archive Network allows online searching of over 20,000 collections in 52 Scottish repositories.

Parks & Gardens UK  

Parks & Gardens UK is the leading on-line resource for historic parks and gardens providing freely accessible, accurate and inspiring information on UK parks, gardens and designed landscapes and all activities concerned with their promotion, conservation and management.

5. Further reading

David Lambert, Peter Goodchild and Judith Roberts, Researching a Garden's History: A Guide to Documentary and Published Sources Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies (1995)

Ray Desmond, A Bibliography of British Gardens(1984)

M Hadfield, A History of English Gardening (1960)

C Hussey, English Gardens and Landscapes 1700-1750 (1967)

D Jarrett, The English Landscape Garden (1978)

Country Life magazine. An annual cumulative index exists.

Gavin DR Bridson, Valerie C Phillips and Anthony P Harvey, Natural History Manuscript Sources in the British Isles (1980)

WR Dawson, The Banks Letters: a Calendar of the Manuscript Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks Preserved in the British Museum (Natural History) and other Collections in Great Britain (1958)


Peter Eden, Dictionary of Land Surveyors and Local Cartographers of Great Britain and Ireland 1550-1850 (1977). Dr Sarah Bendall, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, is currently revising and expanding the Dictionary of Land Surveyors and would be prepared to provide information if requested.

Ray Desmond, William T Stern, Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists(1977)

Miles Hadfield, Robert Harling and Leonie Highton, British Gardeners: a biographical dictionary (1980)

Specific periods

John Harvey, Medieval Gardens (1981)

David Jacques, Georgian Gardens (1983)

Brent Elliott, Victorian Gardens (1986)


Registers of historical parks and gardens: historic descriptions of the most important gardens with a bibliography for each site. The format differs between counties. They are not normally for sale but are available at English Heritage, National Monuments Record of Scotland, National Monuments Record of Wales and often in county record offices and planning departments.

Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. Maintained by English Heritage. One volume for each county, 1984 onwards.

Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales. Maintained by CADW. One volume for each county, 1994 onwards.

An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland. Maintained by the Countryside Commission for Scotland. One volume, 1987.

Heritage Gardens Inventory. Maintained by the Northern Ireland Heritage Gardens Committee. One volume, 1992.

Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 124


Discovery is an online catalogue of archival records across the UK and beyond, from which you can search 32 million records.