For the Bookshelf: 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown
2016 was the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, best-known for designing gardens and landscapes at some of England’s grandest stately homes.
After centuries of stiff, formal and enclosed gardens, Brown transformed landscapes across England in the 18th century using a new natural style, now considered quintessentially English. He replaced heavy formality with wide open expanses, views and vistas and introduced his signature contouring hills, serpentine lakes and strategically-placed specimen trees.
This was gardening on a vast scale, creating park- land and woodland, and using trees to give the same effect as shrubs in regular gardens. His gift was to develop gardens and landscapes that looked natural and in harmony with the surrounding countryside even though they often involved moving thousands of tonnes of earth to create the gentle contours and installing expansive manmade lakes, that looked wonderful but were also part of practical drainage systems.
The grounds at the Burghley estate in Lincolnshire were one of the most important commissions of his career which took more than 25 years to complete. He also practised architecture and contributed to several country houses including Blenheim and Chatsworth.
By the time he died in 1783, over 4,000 gardens had been landscaped according to Brown’s principles. His design influence on parks and gardens spread across Northern Europe to Russia and through Thomas Jefferson to the United States, as well as British colonies further afield.
A number of books were published last year to celebrate the work of this highly influential and innovative man, one of the true giants of our profession.