Gardening from a Young Age
Lancelot “Capability” Brown was born in Northumberland in the year 1716 and started his trade while learning as a gardener’s boy at Kirkharle Hall.
He received his first commission at the young age of 23 and from there he quickly found himself in high demand amongst the great and the good who could afford his services. He is so highly thought of as a landscape architect that many today do not know and could not name the trendsetters in whose footsteps he followed.
He was part of the movement known as the ‘New English Style’ or landscape design and worked on Warwick Castle and many other places before becoming Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace at the age of 48.
It is believed that he worked on more than 170 formal gardens during the course of his life but despite this success his style unfortunately fell out of favour soon after his death.
The growth of the Romantic Movement meant that there was a demand for a less natural and more colourful approach to the garden. This had been the prevailing style before Brown yet he remains a highly respected historical figure for his designs.
Arguably, the modern public parks which attempt to simulate nature and create open spaces are homage to a style that honours Brown.
More than Capable
Though due to fashion changes much of his work was swept away after his death, there are surviving Brown gardens open to the public. Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire is a good example of his work and the palace attracts millions of visitors ever year. Warwick Castle is another, as is Bowood House.
In life despite his success, he did have his critics. He was, after all, one of the trendsetters who sought to replace the formally planned shrubs, trees and flowers of the age that preceded it with a more naturalistic style.
Typically, it would be a large open expanse of grass with a serpentine shaped like, clumps of shrub and trees littering the landscape. It would be unfair to call it, bleak but some did.
One of his biggest critics was Russell Page who designed Longleat and described Brown “encouraging his wealthy clients to tear out their splendid formal gardens and replace them with his facile compositions of grass, tree clumps and rather shapeless pools and lakes”.
Poet Richard Owen remarked that he hoped to die before Brown because he would fear seeing how the Landscape Architect would “improve” heaven. Nevertheless, he had a successful career designing formal gardens for some of the richest of high society.
His Legacy – Not Just Garden Makeover Shows!
Though the age of the landed estate is now over save for those with a passion for preserving the heritage of the large houses they now own, the spirit of Capability Brown lives on. No matter how small our personal gardens, we attempt to create an open and inviting environment whether that is a natural or more ordered style. Either way, we try to make them places of beauty and somewhere that you would want to spend a lot of time.
This is especially appealing in the summer months when you can while away the hours sipping cold drinks or having barbecues with friends. Those who are environmentally conscious might seek advice of specialists to make their gardens friendly to insects or other forms of wildlife, this at a time of critical decline of honeybees and other pollinating insects. Businesses are also employing formal gardeners to make workplaces a pleasant place to be or for somewhere for staff to go and relax on their lunch break.
Sally Dimmock does not have a garden of her own and would never have been able to afford the services of Capability Brown! Luckily, there are many modern landscape architects who pay homage to him through careful Garden Maintenance. Essex, with its landscape, could be the next garden of England.
- 11.5.2013 – notes from a palace on painting (deanmelbourne.wordpress.com)
- Warwick Castle (ivorythewriter.wordpress.com)
- Gardens of Wiltshire (visitwiltshire.wordpress.com)