The Glorious Gardens of Capability Brown

I’m back ready to share my newly acquired knowledge about Capability Brown and his landscape garden designs. Although Lancelot Brown (his real name) came from a fairly humble background, he did attend school until he was 16 and then had a series of gardening positions throughout England. Brown’s time working under William Kent as undergardener at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, had a great influence on his work as Kent was one of the founders of the new English style of landscape garden. From the early 1700s there was growing criticism of the formal English gardens especially by the poet Alexander Pope who could be called an amateur gardener interested in constructing grottos. Perhaps more on him later. By the 1720s William Kent had started to create gardens with more naturalistic compositions. This is Kent’s cascade in the garden at Chiswick House, Chiswick, West London one of the earliest examples of the English landscape garden. (Wikipedia)
(Wikipedia)

Capability Brown went on to refine the new concept of a garden as begun by William Kent and Brown is responsible for creating over 170 gardens surrounding British country houses and estates. His work still endures in many places but we will start at Croome Court (near High Green, Worcester, Worcestershire,
his first job after leaving Stowe and where he also designed the house.
(Credit: David Noton)

Two of my subscribers work in the field of water treatment (I’m not sure if they know each other but might after this) so I thought they would be interested in the problem faced by Capability at Croome Court. Because the estate was on marshy ground, on a plain between two rivers, the Avon and the Severn, it had to be drained before work on the garden could start. I gather from my reading that the main house was placed where it was impossible to see the village and the formal gardens were dug up. Brown had the old church demolished and a new one built on a more prominent site. Winding paths framed carefully chosen views of the parkland, house, a fine tree or garden building. The plan of Croome Park by John Snape (below) shows the estate in 1796 after Brown's work (reproduced courtesy of Worcestershire Archive and Archaeological Service). Brown put in lots of culverts, underground drains which channelled the water away from the house and towards the site of a new river in a boggy area called Seggy Mere. The river is actually a narrow lake 1.75 miles long, snaking across the parkland- all created with manual labour. (Capability Brown.org)

(Credit: capabilitybrown.org)

This magnificent vista was created by Capability Brown at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. It took Brown 10 years to achieve which included building two dams and creating a 40-acre lake. He planted thick belts of trees around the park boundary, designed new drives and remodelled the entrance to the north of Blenheim Palace. (capabilitybrown.org) The palace is notable as the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.
(Credit: Blenheim Palace)

Here is the estate from a different angle. Brown designed the new lake around the existing bridge which was designed by John Vanbrugh.
(Credit: Blenheim Palace)

Brown understood the importance of trees in creating the perfect view for visitors driving or riding in the park. They both hid and revealed features – making people want to explore further. At Blenheim he planted four stands of beech trees on either side of the Grand Bridge, hiding the points where it sloped into the ground. He used cedar, acacia, poplar, chestnut and beech in the area around the Cascades. (capabilitybrown.org)
(Credit: capabilitybrown.org)

And from one creative genius to another here is a painting of Harewood House by JMW Turner. The garden landscape for the estate near Leeds, West Yorkshire was designed by Capability Brown in the 1770s.
(Credit: Harewood House)

What I love about writing the blog is not only the comments that come in from the subscribers but I love discovering little gems of information. Some of my English ancestors came from Dorset and to my delight I have just discovered that one of Capability Brown's most ambitious landscaping designs was 500 acres of wooded landscape in the valley at Milton Abbey, Dorset.
(Credit: capabilitybrown.org)

Even more interesting and somewhat controversial is that Mr Brown built the new model village at Milton Abbas, Dorset in the mid 1770s.
(Credit: capabilitybrown.org)

From 1773 he helped Lord Milton to enlarge the estate by removing the old village of Milton. To replace it, Brown designed the model village of Milton Abbas with its attractive streets of thatched cottages, lying out of sight of the house just as he had at Croome Court. I'm not sure how I feel about Mr Brown now and his creative works as he was trying to keep some of my ancestors from the view of Lord Milton! I'm off to Dorset next year so I will check out Mr Brown's work in the area and give you an update. The new village looks delightful but what happened to the families who lived there while the new cottages were being built?

As we are learning, Capability Brown was an expert in harnessing water to its best effect. Trentham Gardens (see below) in Staffordshire just four miles from Stoke-on-Trent contain a mile-long lake with cascading weir, designed by Capability Brown.
(Credit: capabilitybrown.org)

John Phibbs, expert on Lancelot Capability Brown explains:
You have to remember that Brown loved streams... (because) A stream has sound, and animals will come down to drink. He also made ponds, canals and cascades, and he was a master at drainage. In some places, the fencing at the edges of lakes is controlled so that animals gather at a specific ‘beach’ to drink, becoming a component in a vista seen from the house. (telegraph.co.uk)

By designing grassland and parkland trees, woodland and water parkland features in an intricate pattern, Brown created a varied mosaic of habitats, concentrated in one place, that provide plenty of homes for wildlife, some of them very rare. They include grassland, wood pasture, woodland and wetland habitats but most important are the hundreds of parkland trees he incorporated or new trees he planted which are now 300 to 1000 years old. They are important for their decaying wood and the nooks and crannies that develop in old wood, that lichens, fungi and invertebrates such as beetles need to survive, as well as providing roosts for bats. These trees reach a very great age because they grow in open grazed areas rather than competing for light and nutrients in woodland. Brown’s landscapes offer important refuges for wildlife and stepping stones for species to connect with habitats in the more intensively farmed or developed landscape that surrounds them. (cababilitybrown.org)

The Golden Valley at Ashridge Estate (Hertfordshire) is considered to be Capability Brown's crowning achievement. And here is the Rev'd Charlton Lane (c. 1860) perception of this man made Natural Landscape capturing the appreciative native life.
(Credit: capabilitybrown.org-by permission of the National Trust)

The Hero Image illustrates a typical landscape garden as designed by Capability Brown with the wide sweeping grassland surrounded by trees planted in sympathy with the landscape which features a great expanse of water. This garden is the Prior Park Landscape Garden Bath, Somerset.

Where to now? Gardens make me think of gnomes and gnomes make me think of Halloween. A challenge I am sure but tomorrow you will see what I make of these links.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on anewman@netspace.net.au or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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