Picture England – rolling green hills, a glimpse of water, stately trees, a sprinkling of sheep – you’ve just described an 18th century landscape garden designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. I’m off to celebrate 300 years since his birth striding across landscapes with Walpole the dog firmly on the lead (it’s those sheep, you see).
Let’s start at Croome Park in Worcestershire, C
apability Brown’s first major commission in 1751 for his friend and patron, the 6th Earl of Coventry. Brown designed not just the landscape but the house, rotunda and church as well. The result is a wonderful balance between land, water and buildings gradually emerging from a major restoration programme by the National Trust. I just can’t decide whether to go for a walk, a lecture or a play performance; all happening at Croome this year.
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire has “the loveliest view in England”. Capability Brown worked here from 1763 to 1774, turning a canal into a majestic lake and giving the Palace a glorious setting which I’m going to see from the new Trail around the Park, maybe even from a horse-drawn carriage. The exhibition here will tell me more and I’m dying to see the reconstruction of Capability Brown’s famous machine for moving full grown trees.
At Weston Park in Shropshire, Brown was employed by Sir Henry Bridgeman to create
a’modern’ setting for the baroque house he had just inherited. What he got was a classic Brown landscape, a stream became a lake, avenues became carefully positioned clumps of trees all framing the view of the house and the elegant Temple of Diana (in which you can now stay overnight). There’s a new exhibition about Brown here every month so I’m spoiled for choice!
Harewood House in Yorkshire’s Brown landscape was created over 6 years from 1775, as a setting for the new house built by Robert Adam for wealthy landowner, Edwin Lascelles. I’ll be there in June for talks and walks and to see the year long exhibition of views of the park by the likes of JMW Turner and Victorian photography pioneer Roger Fenton.
Berrington Hall in Herefordshire was Brown’s last landscape where he worked with his architect son-in-law, Henry Holland. The National Trust are rediscovering it this year with the help of environmental artists, Red Earth, in a series entitled Genius Loci. This contemporary way of looking at Brown’s legacy sounds really intriguing.
And so to Hampton Court Palace in London, where Brown was Head Gardener to King George III until his death. The best survivor of Brown’s work here is The Great Vine, planted by Brown in 1768. It is the largest grape vine in the world and still produces a huge harvest each autumn. Brown preserved the celebrated royal gardens and The Empress & The Gardener is an exhibition of watercolours of the garden in Brown’s day (Catherine the Great of Russia’s the Empress).