Born in 1716 from humble origins Lancelot “Capability” Brown grew to be regarded then, and still now, as one of the best designers of modern landscape gardens that there has ever been. If you visit any Historic or Stately home in the UK it is very likely that his work or at the very least his influence has been put on the garden there. When one thinks of the landscape garden it is his name and not that of Charles Bridgeman or William Kent that springs to mind even though they made valid contributions before him and expanded the more naturalistic style of the landscape over the formal. However there are some that have started to question the advance of Brown and the landscape movement. Many critics have decried the claim that whilst Brown was the creator of many gardens he was also responsible for the loss and total destruction of many fine formal styles. The belief is that we have lost a large part of our horticulture heritage in the name of modernisation and the whims of the Aristocratic owners wanting to follow a new trend.
Browns designs required an enormous amount of work and if his employees had had access to https://www.briggsbits.co.uk/ they will have had the job done in no time. Sadly, the internet and Briggs and Stratton Parts were not accessible. It should be explained that the formal garden was a creation of some significance. It was an attempt to control nature. Patterns were laid out and religiously stuck to, box hedges were manicured, and flowers were arranged in strict rows and seasonal flowering order. The idea behind the walled/formal garden was twofold. In a spiritual sense it was taught to be a way of recreating the biblical Garden of Eden. Eden was imagined in this very formal way as if it was directed by God. The second function was to act as another room of the main house. As the occupants left the dwelling they were still “inside” but one created by nature.
Browns plans would dispense with this. Instead the Eden he sought to recreate was a natural one generally featuring a lake. The engineering involved was impressive and usually gravity fed. Browns nickname came not from his ability but more of his habit of saying that a garden had a great capability to be changed to his vision. He wanted, and convinced, the owners to follow the beliefs of Himself, Bridgeman and Kent and create a garden that was like nature “as red in tooth and claw”.
He has left us many great places such as Stowe and Croome Park but there is also much lost although some examples remain such as Penshurst (above).