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Eighteenth Century English Landscape Gardener Capability Brown Encouraged the Lawn

Just finished reading a wonderful little book Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden by Laura Mayer.

The book won art historian Mayer an award. I can see why. In clear crisp writing she has included quite a bit of detail about Brown, the eighteenth century landscape gardener,  and what was happening in England during that time period.

Brown achieved quite a bit of fame.  Toward the end of his life the King made him the Royal Gardener at Hampton Court

My goal in reading the book was to learn something about Brown.  I had read biographies of other important figures in the history of the English garden, but never anything about Capability.

Timing is everything, and when he appeared on the scene in the mid-eighteenth century, it was the period when Arcadia, a love for nature, was at its peak. That school of thought, promoted by English writers, poets, and artists held that the garden should resemble nature, and not be designed in a formal, cold system of straight lines and symmetry.

When Brown (1716-1783)  appeared on the scene, the English had already espoused the Arcadian look.

Brown sought to take landscape gardening in a new direction. His design for the landscape  centered on the lawn, or parkscape, as Mayer called it in her book.

Brown recommended to his many clients that they rip up their gardens and replace them with lawn.  He did a great deal of grading of the contours of his client’s property, creating just the right ups and downs, to provide a soothing view of the lawn from the manor.

He worked on  famous classic English gardens like Stowe, Chatsworth, and Blenheim.

Brown inspired a new generation of ‘natural’ landscape gardeners who came after him.  His lawn, the center of his design,  continued well into the nineteenth and twentieth century, influencing even American gardening.

Highclere Castle, site for the filming of the current PBS hit ‘Downton Abbey’, was one of his landscapes.  You can see his work especially in the shots of the lawn surrounding the house as the TV program opens.

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Ah, that is seriously very kind of you! I noticed you mentioned Highclere Castle in your blog-! I’m lecturing there – on Capability Brown (& Branson, of course, for the Downton fans) – in the spring if you happen to be in England then. Lady Carnarvon is posting the information on the Highclere webpage soon. I think its called ‘Art & Architecture at Highclere’. Thanks again for your kindness. Much appreciated. I have written a book on Humphry Repton if you fancy moving on in the century 😉 Best wishes. Laura

  2. Was randomly researching on line when your review popped up of my little book-! It made my day! Thank you very much. Laura Mayer (author of Capability Brown & the English Landscape Garden).

    1. Hello Laura, so good to hear from you. I loved your book on Brown and was delighted to include it in a blog post. It was easy to read and gave me a lot of background about the key players in landscape history for that period.

      1. Will look for your Repton book. I consider him especially important in the eighteenth century, of course. I love his illustration/painting called Rosarium, a garden of roses on trellises. Have included it in a book I am working on at the moment called All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth Century Seed Company. Vick was an American entrepreneur who excelled at marketing Victorian annuals that we still love today.

  3. Interesting post. Brown is so unfashionable at the moment, but his work has a wonderful timeless quality to it. It will be his tercentenary in 2016, and lots of celebrations are being planned at his various gardens around England.

    1. I never realized how much influence Brown had. Love your blog. found it the other day. what is the best book on Brown?

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