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The Gardens of Capability Brown

Chatsworth Park
Chatsworth Park © tom-herbert via Flickr

Those who enjoy visiting parks and stately homes have probably visited many of the gardens designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the 18th century.

He was considered by some to be a genius, and by others as a destructive force, as he swept away formal knot gardens and parterres to make way for his more natural landscapes.

During his 32-year career as a landscape gardener and “place-maker”, he shaped over 170 estates including Chatsworth House, Blenheim Palace and Stowe.

Natural Style

Such was Capability Brown’s talent for creating natural English landscapes, many people are not aware that the parkland they are enjoying was not actually designed by Mother Nature!

Stowe Landscape Gardens
Stowe Landscape Gardens © Steve Johnson via Flickr

Brown’s style was to sweep away the geometric formality made fashionable by Versailles, replacing it with a natural grassy park, often with a large lake fringed by majestic oaks and maples.

Capability Brown Hallmarks

Many of his designs included “eye-catchers” such as a folly, obelisk or gazebo, drawing the eye across the undulating expanse of deer park to the distant architectural feature.

Other hallmarks were serpentine-shaped lakes, circular carriage drives, arches, bridges and trees planted in copses and belts.

Lasting Legacy

Capability Brown’s natural creations never seemed to go out of fashion and consequently many of them remain today, just as he envisaged them, with mature trees now gracing the English landscape. If you visit London, you can see his landscaping in Hyde Park and St James’ Park.

Blenheim Palace Grand Bridge
Blenheim Palace Grand Bridge © Tony Hisgett via Flickr

Some gardens designed by Capability Brown have since evolved into public parks and golf courses, such as at Stoke Poges, where the landscape ideally lent itself to becoming rolling fairways.

Kiddington Hall

After learning his trade as a gardener’s boy at Kirkharle Hall, Brown’s first commission was  in 1739 at Kiddington Hall. He designed the gardens around a large lake, which later became his trademark.

Warwick Castle

Capability Brown was commissioned in 1750 to landscape the extensive gardens of Warwick Castle.

His design won him national recognition as he sculpted a natural-looking vista that flowed from the impressive castle right down to the river.

Carefully chosen trees were planted to frame the castle, giving it the stunning view visitors can still appreciate today.

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace and its Capability Brown designed gardens hold World Heritage status.

Blenheim Palace Park & Lake
Blenheim Palace Park & Lake © Simon Q via Flickr

The landscaped parkland and gardens include water terraces, a magnificent lake and architectural eye-catchers such as the Grand Bridge designed by Vanbrugh and the Column of Victory.

Prior Park

On a smaller scale, Prior Park is typical of Capability Brown’s landscaping. The 28-acre garden is set on the sides of a valley with distant views of the city of Bath.

Prior Park
Prior Park © Graham via Flickr

There are three lakes in the gardens along with a serpentine lake, a stunning Palladian bridge and a Gothic temple feature.

The next time you take a walk in a typical English landscape, pause for thought and consider whether it was designed by Mother Nature, or whether perhaps it had a little help from “England’s Greatest Gardener”, Lancelot Capability Brown.

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