Capability Brown Gardens
Take a walk through the masterpieces of Britain's most famous landscape gardener
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was the Shakespeare of English garden design. In the 18th century he was responsible for using a more ‘natural’ style and transformed stately home gardens and landscapes throughout England. He left behind the legacy of a quintessential English garden we are most famous for today.
Stowe was ‘Capability’ Brown’s first major commission and today is one of the most magnificent landscape gardens in England. He started his career as head gardener here at the age of 26 in 1741, was married and lived at Stowe for 10 years. A picture-perfect English garden now managed by the National Trust, attracting visitors for over 300 years. Stowe has fabulous views, lakes and temples all joined up with winding paths and a timeless landscape. In the 18th century, Stowe rivalled many of the royal gardens and was loved by all who visited, including Catherine the Great of Russia, who copied many aspects at her own gardens near St Petersburg.
‘Capability’ Brown’s first commission for a house and parkland, and what a masterpiece. This incredible restoration project started over 17 years ago and continues today. What was then a lost and overgrown 18th century parkland has been restored to ‘Capability’ Brown’s very first landscape design. Croome Court’s restoration encourages visitors to see the transformation from inside and out. This grand house will emerge in all its glory during 2016.
Sherborne Castle, Dorset
‘Capability’ Brown created the 50-acre lake, magnificent trees, borders and sweeping lawns. Sherborne Castle is one of his earliest designs; much of which can still be seen today. Built in 1594 by Sir Walter Raleigh this is a castle full of English history. Explore the stunning Grade I listed garden as you walk along the paths and trails leading you to a breathtaking view of more than 1,000 acres of lake and parkland. The garden includes majestic trees surrounding the lake and historical specimens from Sir Walter Raleigh’s travels including cedars of Lebanon and a Ginkgo tree. The castle is home to a collection of art, furniture and porcelain and Raleigh’s original kitchen, artefacts and archaeological treasures.
Trentham is one of Brown’s most celebrated successes and his work continues today with a restoration of one of his lost landscapes. This is a must-see award-winning English garden with a mile long ‘Capability’ Brown designed lake, Italian Garden, woodland and maze. Enjoy his impressive lake on foot or on water – walk around the lake path (it’s over 2 miles/3.2km!) or hop aboard the Miss Elizabeth boat. Don’t forget to bring your camera as this garden is a photographer’s dream throughout the year, with picture-perfect views at every turn. Look carefully and you may even see some fairies. There’s plenty more to entertain you at Trentham, you’ll find a shopping village and garden centre and for the more adventurous the Monkey Forest and Aerial Extreme, a tree-based high ropes adventure course.
By the mid 18th century ‘Capability’ Brown had now become the ‘celebrity’ landscape gardener and his work at Chatsworth transformed the gardens to mirror the magnificence of the house. Loved by all who visit, Chatsworth is one of England’s greatest treasure houses and gardens. This 18th century ‘Capability’ Brown garden with over 105 acres is full of surprises. It’s most famous for its 200ft (61m) fountain, rock garden and surviving Joseph Paxton glasshouses and contemporary sculptures. Join a free one-hour garden tour where you’ll learn all about its history, including ‘Capability’ Brown’s landscape designs. Take time to explore this dramatic house, home of the Cavendish family since the 1550s. Full of works of art spanning over 4,000 years, there’s something to delight every visitor from Roman and Egyptian sculptures to masterpieces from Rembrandt, Reynolds and Veronese.
‘Capability’ Brown’s vision for Harewood was to ensure the gardens were as imposing as the house. He did this by building an enormous lake (32 acres), which can still be seen today. Harewood House is a grade I listed building full of art, including an early collection of watercolours by Turner. Take time to enjoy this magnificent 100-acre garden where you can see the Terrace, Lakeside Garden, Himalayan Garden and Walled Garden. Admire the grand sweep of the 1,000-acre park and Harewood estate as you stroll around the ‘Capability’ Brown lake. But don’t leave without a visit to the Bird Garden, home to penguins, owls, flamingos and parrots.
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Blenheim Palace is possibly ‘Capability’ Brown’s masterpiece for scale with over 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland. Noted as “the most beautiful view in England”; the Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The award-winning formal gardens, commissioned by the 9th Duke of Marlborough, include a secret garden, the majestic water terraces, a fragrant rose garden and the grand cascade and lake. Take time to enjoy The Pleasure Gardens, where you can hop aboard the miniature train, get lost in the giant maze or visit the tropical butterfly house.
Hampton Court Palace, London
‘Capability’ Brown was appointed by King George III to look after the gardens and lived there with his family. This was an important appointment as it raised his status amongst the nobility. He is thought to have planted the great vine in 1768, which is still producing a crop of sweet grapes today (you can buy them from the shop in early September). Hampton Court Palace is of unique historical and horticultural importance. The park covers 750 acres of land, set by the River Thames. Stroll around the 60 acres of beautiful formal gardens where you’ll see The Privy Garden, Tiltyard Walls, Rose Garden and The Great Fountain Garden. But don’t get lost in the maze!
Weston Park, Staffordshire
‘Capability’ Brown was responsible for reshaping the 1,000 acres of parkland surrounding the magnificent stately home into a ‘natural beauty’. Weston Park has a rich history and is home to an internationally important art collection including works by Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Stubbs. Explore the 18th century ‘Capability’ Brown landscape and the more formal lines of the 19th century gardens. Relax in the walled kitchen gardens, the wall dates back to the 18th century, or get lost in the yew hedge, labyrinth and grass mazes. Hop on board the Weston Park Railway and enjoy the one-mile journey on a miniature train taking you through beautiful ‘Capability’ Brown English woodland.
Compton Verney, Warwickshire
Compton Verney is a grade I Georgian mansion house set in 120 acres of grade II parkland, located in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside. Much of what you see today results from a long-term project, still ongoing today, to restore many of the features created by ‘Capability’ Brown in 1768. Follow the ‘Capability’ Brown restored footpaths and discover his minimalist natural style with sweeping vistas, viewpoints and huge central lake. Compton Verney is also home to some of his architecture, including a Georgian chapel (one of the few surviving in England) and a restored Ice House, built in 1772 to store ice for the kitchen and now a perfect meeting place for bats! Don’t leave without visiting the award-winning gallery, home to six diverse collections of art from around the world including Naples baroque art, Chinese bronze and pottery, side by side with British portraits and folk art.
Lowther Castle & Gardens, Cumbria
‘Capability’ Brown remodelled the landscape at Lowther Castle to be more natural. Lowther Castle sits within a 3,000-acre medieval deer park in the Lake District National Park and dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Now a restoration project like no other, the gardens are being brought back to life after 70 years of neglect. Join the head gardener on a guided walk and discover designs from centuries past including the Yew Avenue, Japanese Garden, Sweet Scented Garden and Parterre Tapestry Garden. A must-see is the ‘garden in ruins’ – a new restoration project, started in 2015 – this romantic garden design of the east range of castle ruins includes trees, shrubs, roses, wisteria and jasmine growing up through the huge gothic windows. Visit Lowther Castle over the coming years to see the gardens grow and mature.