Lancelot ‘Capabilty’ Brown (1716-1783) was born in the small village of Kirkhale, Northumberland where his parents worked for Sir William Lorraine on the Kirkhale Hall Estate. Capability Brown became one of the most famous landscape gardeners in British history and changed the way that gardens were designed. During the 18thC as the Industrial Revolution took off, the gentry and wealthy industrialists were rebuilding their own family homes or building grand new country houses in beautiful locations and they wanted their homes to have stunning views.
Landscape designers such as Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown were called upon to restyle the grounds into romantic visions of lakes, follies and classical style ruins amid rolling grass meadows and knolls topped with clumps of trees. Around the edge of the grounds there was sometimes a ‘ha-ha’, a deep ditch with one steep vertical side which was reinforced by a wall. It was designed to keep the livestock away from the house and it was invisible from the house, so it looked as though the gardens flowed into the surrounding farmland. Eyesores such as old farm buildings were removed from sight and open fields were enclosed and divided with hedges; the countryside became a series of picturesque fields.
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Capability Brown’s style of landscape gardening makes it difficult sometimes to know what is the natural countryside or the result of his clever landscaping. His style was also later copied by other gardeners. There are some clues to a Capability Brown’s work of art; he planted Cedar of Lebanon trees as his trademark, these majestic evergreen trees were imported from the Mediterranean in the 18thC and along with London Plane trees are a feature of his gardens.
Capability Brown spared no expense in rearranging the natural features of the landscape that included redirecting the course of rivers and streams, inserting waterfalls or making artificial lakes on a grand scale. The lakes which featured in his landscaping were usually curving serpentine lakes with grass growing down to the edges.
As well as the lakes and rivers, ornamental bridges in either Gothic or a classical design feature in a Capability Brown landscape. A sweeping driveway designed for horse drawn carriages leads up to the grand house, passing through the woodland which borders the road giving the house and garden privacy.
Many of the houses with their Capability Brown landscaped countryside and gardens are open to the public, some are owned by the National Trust others are still owned by families.
This is just a selection that you can enjoy on a vacation to the UK.
Stowe, Buckinghamshire is regarded as one of the great English Landscape gardens with many trails and temples scattered across the grounds, winding paths, lakeside walks and stunning views. It was one of Capability Brown’s first major creations, today it is owned by the National Trust and shouldn’t be missed on any tour of his work. It is a perfect example of his landscaping with its serpentine lake, Gothic temple and Palladian bridge and 1000 acres of landscaped parkland surrounding the gardens.
Harewood House near Leeds, West Yorkshire has over 100 acres of gardens which were landscaped by the famous Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The magnificent gardens are full of variety with plants from all over the world, there is a Lakeside Garden, Himalayan Garden and a Walled Garden. The Lake covers over 32 acres and is surrounded by beautiful woodlands with magnificent trees and Harewood’s famous collection of rhododendrons.
Chatsworth House near Bakewell, Derbyshire is one of England’s grandest stately homes with wonderful grounds and gardens. It is still home to the Dukes of Devonshire and the gardens of over 105 acres are one of Capability Brown’s finest, containing all his signature features, the impressive approach to the house through the parkland across the bridge is one of the finest in England.
Petworth House and Park, West Sussex is a magnificent 17th C stately home set on the South Downs and surrounded by 700 acres of landscaped parkland. The landscape appears to be totally natural, but it was designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and today it has the largest herd of fallow deer in England. There is also a 12ha woodland garden which is known as ‘The Pleasure Ground’. The gardens and parkland which are now owned by the National Trust were made famous in paintings by the artist JMW Turner.
Some of the other most notable of Capability Brown’s gardens owned by the National Trust are; Croome, Worcestershire which was his first large commission for a house and parkland, the Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire and Wallington in Brown’s home county of Northumberland.
There are many other gardens which Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown designed including; Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire with over 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland and award-winning formal gardens. Lowther Castle and Gardens, Cumbria which is set in a 3,000-acre deer park. Trentham Gardens, Staffordshire with its mile-long serpentine lake and Sherborne Castle, Dorset with its magnificent 50-acre lake.