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Capability Brown Made the Lawn Essential in the English Garden

Though the lawn had played a role in the English garden for decades, an eighteenth century landscape gardener  launched its role in the modern English garden forever.

His name was Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

American writer Rose Standish Nichols in her book English Pleasure Gardens (1902) said, ” ‘Capability’ Brown, so nicknamed because he invariably discovered that every piece of ground had capabilities of being improved by his methods. He is said to have had supreme control over the art of modern gardening for nearly half a century. He and his admirers increased the dimensions of the naked lawn, multiplied the number of belts of trees and shrubbery, but, unfortunately destroyed many of the beautiful old gardens to make way for their improvements.”

Highclere Castle, the site of the TV drama "Downton Abbey'
England’s Highclere Castle, the site of the TV drama ‘Downton Abbey’


Highclere Castle, the site of TV’s famous ‘Downton Abbey’, remains an example of Brown’s handiwork. The lawn goes up to the walls of the Castle.  When the show opens, all you see is the lawn.

Nichols says a bit later in her book, “The French were quick to adopt the English garden style.  It was heralded by philosophers like Rousseau.”

So after the formal garden style of Versailles took the world by storm, it was the natural, or modern, style of the English garden in the eighteenth century that rose to become the popular style in England and elsewhere, including America.

Capability Brown’s lawn remained as the essential element in the garden.


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