How have the parks and gardens been selected?
The entire work and activities of the European Garden Heritage Network EGHN are very much based on the specific knowledge of each partner. This was and is also true for the selection of those parks and gardens that form one of the regional garden routes or contribute to one of the European Themes.
This concept and the criteria needed were developed between 2003 and 2008 in the context of an INTERREG-Project that was funded by the European Union (see 1). Concept and criteria continue to be the guideline for the actual activities of the network and for the development of the partnership (see 2).
1) Development of methods and criteria within the INTERREG IIIB project
In 2004, shortly after the start of the project, experts groups have been established in each participating region to discuss the real characteristics or “unique selling proposition” of the region’s garden heritage and garden art and to chose and to agree on the theme for the regional, EGHN garden route. As a next step an inventory was carried out or existing inventories have been analysed, resulting in a first list of appropriate parks and gardens.
Parks and gardens on this list have then been evaluated according to common criteria set up for all partners and regions. These criteria included for instance the values for garden heritage or garden art, actual condition, visitor services (including information, restaurant etc.) or accessibility. Cooperation with other sites, local bodies or companies and inclusion into existing network have also been assessed as they are likely to foster the growth of economic and social affects that are key to the concept too. Even if the criteria and standard have been uniform in all regions, it was the objective to identify the best sites within each region and not to compare parks in England with parks in France or to set up any kind of ranking.
At the end, the expert groups agreed on a proposal for those five parks and gardens that are most suitable to demonstrate and to communicate the chose theme of the regional route, to offer visitors both a nice stay and new experiences and finally to support the objectives of fostering garden art and local/regional development.
It was also important to link, both on context and location, these selected sites with ten sites of the regional cultural landscape, inviting visitors to stay in the region for a longer period and thus gaining a deeper knowledge about the theme and to enjoy regional diversity and other interesting sites.
In most regions these groups also selected – according to jointly agreed criteria – some additional parks and gardens, qualified to contribute to EGHN’s European Themes that allow following the development of European garden art across the borders or the life and work of famous people and events.
Finally, these proposals were discussed with other local stakeholders and experts (e.g. mayors, tourism experts), project partners and the garden owners to be agreed or modified.
2) Quality standards and selection criteria today
As a result of the positive experiences and outcomes of the INTERREG project, the proficient methods, quality standards and selection criteria are continually used if it comes to the inclusion of additional parks and gardens into the EGHN partnership.
Those who are interested in a partnership – a single garden can join under one of the five European Themes – get an application form from the management unit (Schloss Dyck Foundation, Centre for Garden Art and Landscape Design). They are also asked to send additional literature and actual photos allowing a first evaluation of the site. Very important is a statement by an impartial expert concerning the site and its actual condition and management. To get this statement the regional EGHN coordinators, other partners or external experts were contacted by the management unit. If they are not able to deliver a reliable statement or vote, a member of the EGHN advisory board or the management unit will visit the site. Whenever possible, this visit will be combined with other local/regional business, meetings etc. to reduce costs. The final decision about new partnerships is up to the EGHN advisory board staffed by all partner regions.
New regional routes in the context of the EGHN can only be worked out in close cooperation with the EGHN management unit. Existing routes can feed into this, but can not be declared as EGHN routes without further examination and adaptation.
This development also requires, as it has with the existing routes, a close cooperation of all major local stakeholders in order to ensure a broad support, the sustainable use of existing resources and the increase of synergies but also to preserve the objectives and the achieved standard and recognition of EGHN and its activities to the benefit of all partners.
All this will be discussed in a close dialogue with future partners.