The Experiencing Arcadia project was set up to trial a simple and achievable method that could allow historic gardens to adopt a digital interpretation offer for their visitors. The idea was to find an approach that even the most modest of sites could use without the need for huge budgets, teams of interpretation professionals, and an expert grasp of modern technology. We want to see digital technology used to bring back the fun into gardens in order to create an achievable immersive historic garden visit.
Our solution has been to design a simple but effective website that can be viewed on a home computer before or after a garden visit, but also on a mobile phone or tablet as the visitor is walking round a property. It has been designed and created by two landscape historians who were awarded a small pot of money from the Finnis Scott Foundation and who between them have a limited understanding of digital technology.
[Canaletto, 1697–1768, Venetian, active in Britain (1746–55), Warwick Castle, 1748 to 1749, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection]
As we want to demonstrate the full range of possibilities we have dreamt up an imaginary landscape (a veritable trifle of all our favourite eighteenth-century garden elements) and illustrated it with the pick of the archives’ amusing stories. This is not the final intention though. Our aim is to use this to encourage garden managers to apply this approach in a bespoke manner to their own specific sites. We love to think that soon a twenty-first century visitor will be able to walk around a garden, tablet in hand (we like to imagine a teenager or young man - that demographic we so want but struggle to engage in our beloved heritage!). Then as they pause in front of an ornamental pond, perhaps one in need of a little restoration, they can click on the map and see archival pictures or read a narrative written by their historic counterparts frolicking in the self-same location when it was pristine. And all without the need for information boards.