Lancelot brown, commonly known as capability brown was a well known english landscape (born c. 1715–16, baptised 30 August 1716 – 6 February 1783) architect. He is remembered as “England’s greatest gardener”.

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Brown designed over 170 parks and was nicknamed “Capability” because he would tell his clients that their property had “capability” for improvement. He had a great influence on his predecessors as his contribution towards the english gardens were remarkable. He brought in a new style in the English Landscape by introducing his style of smooth undulating grass, which would run straight to the house, clumps, belts and scattering of trees and his undulating lakes which were formed by making a dam out of the small rivers. He also introduced “gardenless” form of landscape gardening, which swept away almost all the remnants of previous formally patterned styles.

Capability Brown landscapes are both practical yet visually stunning and are characterised by comfort and elegance. Many of his landscapes were designed to confuse the eye, creating the illusion of distinct areas or divided lakes that are actually a single body.

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With this in mind, here are some of the most characteristic Capability Brown landscapes and gardens that can be visited in England:

1. Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

Wrest park is one of the most enchanting and magnificent gardens in England, designed by Capability Brown. The gardens are given a soft touch here with a series of elaborate serpentine lakes.This park is spread across 90 acres of land, with a number of hidden gems, cobbled floor in the bath house(laid with a pattern of deer bones) and a bridge, chinese temple, and over 40 statues. (English-heritage.org.uk)

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Wrest Park ©www.culturesouthwest.org.uk
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Wrest Park ©www.experiencebedfordshire.co.uk
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Wrest Park ©www.experiencebedfordshire.co.uk

2. BURGHLEY, LINCOLNSHIRE

Probably the most exterprised project in ‘Capability’ Brown’s career and was the Burghley in Lincolnshire. Brown took almost 25 years to complete this project and he described it as “25 years of pleasure”. The project involved him both landscaping the gardens and constructing buildings hence was the highest commissioned project.

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Burghley is one of England’s greatest Elizabethan houses and gardens, dating back to the 16th century. It includes the stunning 300-acre deer park and gardens, where you can see the signature details like lakes and avenues of mature trees. The landscape features: obelisks, statues, flowing water and fountains. 

Started in 1754 under direction by the 9th Earl of Exeter, Brown modernised the ground, reworking the garden and parkland to offer views across the stone buildings of Stamford, while also creating stables, an orangery and a Gothic – inspired summerhouse. A restoration project is underway to maintain the beauty of Brown’s design.

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Burghley ©www.burghley.co.uk
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Burghley ©www.burghley.co.uk
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Burghley ©www.burghley.co.uk

3. BLENHEIM PALACE, OXFORDSHIRE

To match the grandeur of Blenheim Palace, Capability Brown created an outstanding landscape over the course of 10 years’ work. Before the work started, the ground of the site already had an existing lake, straight avenue and a bridge, which brown modernised. The original lake was expanded to create a majestic 40 – acre lake. 

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To complete the approach to the palace, two inviting driveways are created, providing visitors with carefully planned glimpses of the house, grounds and lake as they enter.

Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire is world-renowned for the house designed by Sir John Vanbrugh with an amazing landscape that was created around the house by Capability Brown. Through the grounds, a circular self-guided Capability Brown Park trail has been created. The landscape here demonstrates the scale of the landscape work undertaken and how it fits naturally into its surroundings with a fabulous view of the palace itself, with Vanbrugh’s magnificent bridge in the foreground’. (www.blenheimpalace.com)

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Blenheim Palace ©www.alnwickcastle.com
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Blenheim Palace ©www.viator.com
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Blenheim Palace ©www.prestigiousstarawards.com

4. HAMPTON COURT, LONDON

Hampton Court Palace in London has a  unique, historical and horticultural importance. The project was undertaken by brown and he decided to retain much of the original layout of the garden and straight walks. Set along the River Thames, the park covers 750 acres of land. There are 60 acres of beautiful formal gardens where one can see The Privy Garden, Tiltyard Walls, Rose Garden and The Great Fountain Garden. hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace

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The installation of The Great Vine was one of the most prominent alterations Brown made to the grounds. Now the largest and oldest grapevine in the world, this fascinating addition still produces a large crop of black grapes each year. One of the vine’s branches measures a huge 75m!

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Hampton Court ©www.alnwickcastle.com
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Hampton Court ©www.en.wikipedia.org
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Hampton Court ©www.blog.hrp.org.uk

5. Harewood, Yorkshire

For the Harewood project, Brown had a vision to make sure that the gardens were as imposing as the house. He did this by building an enormous lake of 32 acres. From the magnificent 100 acre garden,  the Terrace,, Himalayan Garden, Lakeside Garden and Walled Garden can be seen. The grand sweep of the 1,000 acre park is admirable. The Bird Garden is home to penguins, owls, flamingos and parrots. 

The main contribution of Brown in this project is the lake, driveways and the cascades. These key elements shaped the entire landscape.

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Harewood ©www.alnwickcastle.com/
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Harewood ©www.adventuresofalondonkiwi.com
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Harewood ©www.adventuresofalondonkiwi.com

6. ALNWICK CASTLE, NORTHUMBERLAND

Between 1750 to 1786, Capability Brown was given a project to redesign the castle’s grounds by the 1st Duke of Northumberland. The idea here was to transform the existing farmland into parkland and redesign the River Aln, creating raised causeways which can act as a viewing platform across the valley. To slow down the river’s flow, cascades were created.

Some of the intriguing aspects of this design is the great oaks and beech trees covering the hills, looking down their noses at the more recent softwood plantations. The nature’s vibrant colours greets the viewer in the autumn as well as in winters.

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Alnwick Castle ©www.telegraph.co.uk
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Alnwick Castle ©www.jamieos.smugmug.com

7. Chatsworth, Derbyshire

This project signifies the heritage and the landscape of Chatsworth designed by Capability Brown. Despite being one of the earlier projects of his, there are many outstanding elements of the Chatsworth landscape, including the natural looking lake. Another standout feature of the landscape here is the driveway which leads up to the houses, providing incredible views of the three arch bridge (designed by James Paine) and the landscape grounds. Brown altered these grounds to slope up towards the house by raising river Derwent. These careful design elements introspected and incorporated by Brown clearly emphasises the grandeur of the house. 

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Chatsworth ©www.alnwickcastle.com
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Chatsworth ©www.chatsworth.org
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8. CROOME PARK, WORCESTERSHIRE

This project was completed in stages and hence spanned for 20 years. It was not easy as there were site restrictions due to the presence of river Avon and river Severn, making the land struggle with the drainage. Looking at this, Brown created a series of hand dug underground drains designed to channel water away from the house and to a manmade river. The lake was designed in such a manner that it took a form of natural river. The key design elements are the carefully planted trees and shrubbery and serpentine shapes of the two islands.

Brown also flexed his architectural skills, rebuilding the church in a more prominent location on higher ground, and replacing the 17 th century house with a classical stone mansion.

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Croome Park ©www.alnwickcastle.com
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The Panorama Tower at Croome, Worcestershire.  ©www.theenglishhome.co.uk
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The Panorama Tower at Croome, Worcestershire.  ©www.theenglishhome.co.uk

9. Stowe, Buckinghamshire

The most magnificent landscape garden in England today and Brown’s first major commission project, Stowe has fabulous views, lakes and temples all joined up with winding paths and a timeless landscape. In the 18 century it became the most visited places. Brown undertook the sculpting of the Grecian Valley, making the Octagon and Eleven Acre lakes appear more natural and crafting impressive views of the parkland. Till this date, this project remains the authentic 18th century works of Capability Brown along with the restoration works aiming to preserve this masterpiece garden for the future generation to look at.

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Stowe ©www.alnwickcastle.com
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Stowe ©www.britannica.com
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Stowe ©www.gardenvisit.com

10. TRENTHAM, STAFFORDSHIRE

The most striking feature across all the Brown’s landscapes is the lake at Trentham. By making a dam of the River Trent, a stunning one mile long lake was created. Using his architectural skills, Capability Brown designed a new wing and remodelled the facade of the house. Brown removed the formal garden in the front and created a natural landscape except for the elements like the deer lawn and the hanging KingsWood.

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Trentham ©www.tuckdbpostcards.org
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Trentham ©www.thepotteries.org
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Trentham ©www.alnwickcastle.com

References:

  1. www.countrylife.co.uk
  2. http://thegardenstrust.org/
  1. www.ultravilla.com
  2. www.alnwickcastle.com
Author

Diksha is an architecture graduate from Nirma University, 2020. Being an avid traveler, she has always tried to connect the city's culture with architecture. She is a keen observer, finds inspiration from unexplored places and believes that true essence of architecture lies in its execution (form generation) and user experience.

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