This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot Capability Brown, the landscape architect who earned the name England’s Greatest Gardener. He is said to be to landscaping what Turner is to painting and Wordsworth is to poetry. And the legacy of Capability Brown remains for us all to enjoy in large areas of parkland and gardens across the country.
Brown’s designs changed the face of the British landscape in the 1700s, creating rolling parkland, flowing rivers and serpentine lakes. He was considered by some to be a genius, but his critics saw him as destructive because he swept away formal stately gardens and replaced them with landscapes that appeared more natural to the eye. During his 32-year career, he shaped more than 170 estates including Chatsworth (pictured right), Clumber Park (pictured left), Blenheim Palace and Gatton Park.
Born in 1716 in Northumberland, he began work as a gardener at the country house of Kirkhale. By 1764, he was appointed as Master Gardener to King George III at Hampton Court. His designs are distinctive in their natural and seamless appearance. In particular, he was champion of ha-has, a sunken fence and ditch arrangement, that allowed livestock to be held in one area of the parkland without a visible fence interrupting the view from the house. Another signature trademark were his expansive lakes formed into a single body of water as if a river through the landscape ran on indefinitely. It is these tricks of the eye that lead us to believe that the landscape is simply in its natural state, rather than being a design masterpiece. Indeed, his obituary predicted that his work may be forgotten: ‘Where he is the happiest man he will be least remembered, so closely did he copy nature his works will be mistaken.’
To mark the anniversary you will find a number of events and exhibitions across the country, from horse and carriage rides to art exhibitions and cycle tours (see capabilitybrown.org for details). But arguably the best way to see Brown’s landscapes is to stroll through them. That is, after all, part of the purpose of their design. Try these ten iFootpath walks to get a glimpse of the genius at work…
Gatton Park, Surrey (iFootpath walking guide Explore Surrey: Discover Gatton)
Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire (iFootpath walking guide Clumber Park)
Clandon Park, Surrey (iFootpath walking guide The Onslow Arms Park and Woodland Trail)
Chatsworth, Derbyshire (iFootpath walking guide Calton Lees and Chatsworth Estate)
Petworth House, West Sussex (iFootpath walking guide Petworth and Shimmings Valley)
The Backs, Cambridge (iFootpath walking guide Cambridge City Trail)
Battle Abbey, East Sussex (iFootpath walking guide Battle and the Great Wood)
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (iFootpath walking guide Woodstock and Blenheim Park)
Laleham Abbey, Surrey (iFootpath walking guide Three Horseshoes Laleham Trail)
Syon House, London (iFootpath walking guide Brentford to Marble Hill House)
Corsham Park, Wiltshire (iFootpath walking guide Corsham on TV)
18 July 2016