The Open-Air Museum in Theory and Practice

Abstracts to the research seminar

arranged by FORUM for garden history research (FORUM för trädgårdshistorisk forskning)

Fredriksdal, Helsingborg, Sweden, Oct 28, 2016

Abstracts for print (pdf)

OBS. Abstracts bliver bearbejdet til korte artikler i efterårets Bulletin för trädgårdshistorisk forskning.

Keynote lectures:

  • Dr Danae Tankard, Historian, Weald & Downland Open Air Museum & Senior Lecturer in History, University of Chichester,
  • Katarina Frost, President of the Association of European Open Air Museums, Museum Director at Vallby Open-Air museum, Sweden, and Garden Archaeologist,

Special presentations:

  • Bjørn Anders Fredriksen, PhD, landscape architect, head of The University Park, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway fredriksen@nmbu.norge & Monica Mørch, historian and conservator at The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, Bygdøy, Oslo,
  • Mari Marstein, conservator and gardener at Gamle Hvam Museum, Akershus, Norway,
  • Tove Engelhardt Mathiassen, curator at Den Gamle By, National Open Air Museum of Urban History and Culture, Aarhus, Denmark,

FORUM for Garden History Research (FORUM för trädgårdshistorisk forskning)

is an interdisciplinary network for those who study or do research on garden history and/or work with historic gardens in different aspects. The network was founded 1995 and has about 80 members.  FORUM arranges a seminar every year and publishes an annual Bulletin. See more and apply for membership at:

The historic gardens at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, West Sussex, UK: a social historian’s perspective

Danae Tankard

The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum has seven period gardens which have been recreated to show the transition of gardens from the early 16th to the late 19th centuries. Each garden is intended to reflect the period and social status of the house to which it is attached and they form an integral part of the museum’s historic interpretation.

This paper will offer a brief overview of the development of the gardens and their various interpretative uses.  It will then move on to consider the recreated gardens of two of our exhibit houses, ‘Poplar Cottage’ (c1630) and ‘No. 1, Whittaker’s Cottages’ (c1865) in the context of what we know about the lives of their original inhabitants.

Poplar Cottage was built as an encroachment on common land and its occupants were, in effect, landless. For them, the cottage’s small garden and the surrounding commons would have been vital in sustaining the household economy. As well as growing vegetables the householders would have grown hops (Humulus), flax (Linum usitatissimum) and hemp (Cannabis sativa). The commons were used to graze animals but also to collect fuel and wild foods.

No. 1, Whittaker’s Cottages was one of a pair of cottages built alongside a newly-opened railway line.  From the 1880s it was occupied by a railway worker and his large family. They were not dependent on the land for their maintenance; moreover much of what they ate would have been shop bought. However, their garden and separate allotment would have provided the household with fresh produce. They would also have entered their best vegetable and flower specimens into the village’s annual horticultural show.

I will also explore the broader socio-political aspects of gardens represented by these two case studies. Cottages like Poplar were sometimes built illegally on the commons and their occupants could face prosecution and the enforced destruction of their homes. Moreover, commoners were viewed by reformers as dangerously independent, preferring to eke out a living on the commons rather than work for wages. This was one of the arguments used to justify enclosure in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  In the post-enclosure world of the 19th century gardening was seen by social improvers as a force of moral good, encouraging self-sufficiency, industry and sobriety amongst the working classes.

Drawing these case studies together, my conclusion will assess the value of the recreated gardens at the WDOAM as a form of historic interpretation. Whilst we can offer our visitors an approximation of what historic gardens may have looked like, helping us to achieve a degree of ‘realism’ in our presentation of the past, it is considerably more difficult to convey the significance of gardens to historic households, or the wider socio-political issues that might have surrounded them.

   poplar cottagePoplar cottage. (WDOAM archive, 2014)


King Oscar II’s collection of authentic medieval houses at Bygdøy, Oslo

Bjørn Anders Fredriksen & Monica Mørch

In the 1880s king Oscar, chamberlain Holst and Nicolaysen, head of ‘Fortidsminneforeningen’(an association for preservation of old Norwegian material culture), created probably the world’s first museum of authentic buildings open to the public. The site Bygdøy had since 1837 been developed as a park landscape open to the public. The site was arranged as a hidden treasure in the forest. Entering it meant travelling into the old Norwegian world, far away from the city’s noisy and stressful environment, as it was described by the historian Yngvar Nielsen in 1888.[1]

This presentation discusses driving forces in the three historical layers of Bygdøy: the first period when establishing the collection, in the second period when the original idea had lost its validity, and the present restoring the collection to its first museal appearance. The paper is presenting new findings based on analysis of archive material, linked with a historiographic approach to the changing objectives of restoration.

The aim in the first period was to rescue authentic vernacular wooden architecture and display it to the public in a park setting. It was a part of King Oscar’s interest for old Norwegian material culture, and good PR for the Swedish –Norwegian monarchy. By end of 1890s, the king’s interest faded, and the collection regarded as complete. When the union ended in 1905, the view of the collection quite rapidly changed. It became part of the Norwegian Museum of Cultural history from 1907, and the site was more or less iconoclastically treated. Through the 20th Century the collections’ ‘wunderkammer’ was removed, a fake rune stone was demolished in the 50s and all traces of a folklore park where systematically erased, both physical traces and in the guiding given to the visitors. In 2010-13 both the stave church and surrounding landscape where restored, this time with the original 1800s situation as a goal, showing a new attitude to the values in the original folklore park.

This paper discusses driving forces in the three historical layers of the site: the first period when establishing the collection, in the second period when the original ide losts it validity, and the present restoring the collection to its first museal appearance. The paper is presenting new findings based on analyzes of archive material, linked with a historiographic approach on the changing goals over time.


old_woodenOld wooden architecture in park setting at Bygdøy. Photo: Axel Lindahl, circa 1890. Norwegian Museum of Cultural history, Oslo.

Photo: Axel Lindahl, circa 1890. Norwegian Museum of Cultural history, Oslo.
[1] Yngar Nielsen: ”Hovestuen og Berdal-Staburet paa Bygdø”, in: Christian Holst (red.): Bygninger fra Norges Middelalder hvilke Hans Maj. Kong Oscar den Anden har ladet flytte til Bygdø Kongsgaard, Christiania 1888, p. 15.


Garden heritage and plant collections in Open Air Museums, from a European as well as a national (Swedish) perspective

Katarina Frost

Working with Live collections is a new task for Open Air Museums in many European countries even though the concept of a museum in the open air is more than a century old. Over the past few years there has been an interesting shift from creating a green setting which will be perceived as true to the origin and age of a house, to regarding the plant itself as a collected museum item with a story of its own to tell. While cultural history always has been in focus for Open Air Museums, today biodiversity is becoming equally important in many countries. In Sweden a national policy for Live collections give museum gardeners guidance in their everyday work. On the European level a new network for Open Air Museums with Live collections will ensure the exchange of knowledge and inspiration in the years to come.

This paper presents different ways of regarding and working with the cultivated heritage in European Open Air Museums. From the parkland with a collection of historic buildings and exhibits of houses with gardens, to period gardens with historic plant material, live collections and clone archives.

broad-beanThe Broad bean from Romfartuna. Photo: Maria Löfgren, 2011.


The use of visitor’s knowledge in maintenance of museum garden and in mediation of plant knowledge at Gamle Hvam, Norway

Mari Marstein

I work with the maintenance of a collection of traditional perennials, bulbs, roses and ornamental shrubs at the open-air museum Gamle Hvam in Norway. The perennial and bulb collection also is a clone archive for the Norwegian Genetic Resource Centre, with a 10-year contract spanning from 2010 to 2020.

Mediation of our knowledge is important. We tell the plant’s stories to our guests; stories about the plants’ origin, how they came to Norway, where we find them today, and what they mean to the people growing them. These stories are part of our intangible cultural heritage.

Research on gardens and garden plants in Open Air Museums imply practical experience on maintenance, conservation and documentation. If the researcher and the gardener is the same person, valuable information will not get lost between gardener and researcher.

My special field of study is the diversity of perennials, concerning species and cultivars:

  • how to identify their origin
  • how to recognize differences and similarities
  • local and private names for plants
  • investigating their distribution in Norway and abroad
  • why people still keep these old plants in their gardens
  • how the flowers are used in bouquets
  • how the flowers keep memories of relatives and friends alive

The plant collection is a popular part of Gamle Hvam museum. Our guests love walking among the flowerbeds, and they start reflecting around the plants, bringing their own memories to mind. In this way, I have increased my knowledge of traditional gardens and garden plants. I try to document what people tell me, and to include it in the stories I tell at garden walks and lectures.

This is an example of how open-air museums, by putting effort and investment into knowledge of traditional garden plants, will not just beautify the museum area, but also expand the museum’s mediation in a field with great public interest.

See Facebook: Gamle Hvam museums plantesamling.

guestsGuests discussing peonies at Gamle Hvam. Photo: Mari Marstein, June 2011.

From houses scattered in a park to an urban setting with historical gardens

Tove Engelhardt Mathiassen

Ever since the time of the founder and first director of Den Gamle By, Peter Holm, there has been a keen interest in the development and use of the gardens of this open air museum which has been located at its present spot since 1914. The first buildings were re-erected in a park which up till then had belonged to Det jydske Haveselskab (The Jutlandic Garden Society, 1873-2008), and still outside the borders of the museum are the Botanical Gardens of Aarhus. The very first houses were scattered in a park but at the same time as realizing his aim of establishing a merchant town with buildings re-erected close to each other, Peter Holm took the initiative to make the first garden at the first building called Borgmestergården (The Mayor’s House).

Over the years up till 2016 ten gardens including a small park have been established on the grounds. All ten are related to the historical buildings of this merchant town as an urban setting. In 2016 more than 75 buildings are forming the town with borders, that from the late 1980s have been marked with a wooden fence as a merchant town would have had in the 18th and 19th century. The aim of this paper is to present three of these gardens and the methods used in establishing them. The three gardens will be Peter Holm’s garden at Borgmestergården, the garden established in 2012 at the mid-19th-century school and last but not least the 1920s-garden curated by Birgitte Kjær in the 1990s in close cooperation with the head gardener of Den Gamle By, Gitte Røn. The paper will end by a discussion of new ways of using this 1920s-garden in recollection work for people suffering from dementia.

renaissanceRenaissance garden established by Peter Holm. Photo © Kamma Mogensen & Den Gamle By.