The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all of our lives. It’s also having an effect on our gardens. We recently heard Darren Lerigo view from his Modern Mint blog “The impact of NOT clipping” and today we hear from another EBTS UK member Łukasz Przybylak, Head of Garden Department at Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów. He’s also Vice President of the European Network of Historic Gardens, a non-profit organisation open to institutions that manage or work on European Historic Gardens, throughout the countries that make up the Council of Europe.
Here are his thoughts, originally written for the ENoHG, on “Historic garden maintenance vs COVID-19, News from the royal garden at Wilanów (Warsaw, Poland)”.
On Friday 13.03.2020 the polish government announced the epidemic state because of SARS-Cov-2 that causes COVID-19 disease. On the afternoon of 13th March, additional precautions in the garden department were introduced. Employees and contractors that were in the high-risk group were sent home. The work schedule had to be immediately simplified and packed into two days when the whole team would be on site. After that the team was divided into two groups that work in a rotating system every second day.
March is a month when the most intensive period of the garden’s maintenance starts. There are things to do that have to be done to prevent the loss of plants and to minimize the risk of an early epiphytotics. First, we removed the winter covers from the roses and box hedges. We carried out preventive actions against the box moth to preserve the structure of the baroque and eclectic parts of the garden (created mostly by the parterres, box ornaments and hedges). Because the Wilanów District (in which the royal garden is located) had stopped their tenders for every kind of contracting works (including maintenance of the public green areas) we decided to spray all of box bushes growing next to the garden (to prevent a possible invasion of a box moth that could come from these places).
COVID-19 appeared almost in the middle of ornamental plant production (preparing for the summer display). The work was too advanced to stop it without economic loss to the institution and undermining of the greenhouse keeper’s morale, so the ornamental plants production is still an ongoing process. As long as the situation permits it is most important for the royal garden at Wilanów to take care of the collection of exotic plants. Stories of the loss of botanical collections in a similar situations are well known.
After two weeks of being closed to the public I noticed that the work scheme prepared for the last two weeks of March won’t be enough in April. Mostly because of a drought in central Poland. That is why the number of daily gardeners has been increased by one.
To keep all of the safety standards I have kept a rotating system of work, so that a group of gardeners have a stand-by day at their homes while others are in the garden and so on. To avoid rush hour on public transport we have changed the time of work to 06:30 to 14:30.
More than ever having robots in our tool kit is a blessing. As every spring we launch our mowing robots that work on the most important lawns to keep them in shape. They help save time and the strength of our gardeners who are now working in smaller groups.
My recommendations to administrators of an historic garden would be to prioritize tasks and to create a comfortable level of work for the employees you have. At the beginning, you should put aside any tasks which, if not carried out on time, will not result in short-term damage to the value of the garden. For example: raking leaves, lawn mowing, topiary clipping, seasonal planting, paths weeding and raking could wait for a two or three weeks to be done (obviously this depends on the time of a year a situation like this happens). Cut every possible expense that is not crucial for keeping the garden and machinery safe.
Until the situation allows it, do not:
- stop taking care over the botanical collections
- stop control or actions against the animal activity that might be harmful to the gardens
- stop control of the condition of the environment (for example surface or underground water)
- stop work on ornamental areas of the garden (to avoid losing their value and shape – recovering an ornamental garden after pandemic might exceed the team’s capacity and the budget of the institution)
What I have written above might be summarized in four rules:
- Prioritize tasks in relation to the requirements and values of the garden
- Provide the team with safe working conditions and mental comfort
- Suspend any expenses which, if not implemented, will not result in the deterioration of the garden or the condition of the machinery
- Do not stop monitoring the environmental conditions of the garden (such as the condition and quality of surface and groundwater, the presence of epiphytoses and epizootics)
Redefine the terms of preservation and restoration
With the current pandemic of coronavirus, garden heritage around the world is facing a new factor that hits its safety and condition. Factors that were already pushing us to redefine the term of preservation and restoration of the historic gardens are nolonger represented only by the economic, social and biological aspects. The current pandemic situation has shown another factor, another difficulty in maintaining the garden. The huge economic crisis that is hanging over several European countries will put the needs of the “green heritage” maintenance into the shadow. On the other hand, contact with nature and gardens will be extremely desirable by a lot of people (because of current “self-distancing” and quarantine).
Such a combination of great need for contact with the green spaces and an obvious lack of money for the “green investment” may cause a more “naturalistic” trend in restoration and maintenance of the historic gardens. For example, keeping alive a baroque garden that costs a horrendous amount of money and work will become once again, the same as it was after the French Revolution, financially and administratively undeliverable.
Making an extract from all of the social, cultural, economic and environmental changes that have taken place in recent decades I would recommend preparing the best possible archivisation of a garden’s heritage. To prepare it for both, the future destruction and reconstruction that will be taken by future generations.
Whilst right now we have an amazing view of nature taking a deep breath, something we are actually unable to do so, it is a perfect time to be honest with ourselves that nothing will be the same again. Nature brought humankind into the corner. The sparrows are coming back to the English gardens. The dolphins and fishes came back to the canals of Venice. Birds and mammals could reproduce in the closed gardens while being undisturbed by the people. Everything is as it is supposed to be it just couldn’t happen in a recent years because of the humankind’s life dynamics.
We won’t find a remedy for all of changes but together we could find solutions how to adapt into them while protecting the historic garden’s authenticity. And for that we need a historic gardens union. To exchange the knowledge, to share good practices in restoration, prevention and management, to interest and teach the young generations about the importance of the green heritage. The European Network of Historic Gardens was created in the best possible moment when a big question mark appeared above the future of the most beautiful gardens of Europe.
quotation from the recommendation letter for ENoHG by Łukasz Przybylak, 19.07.2019