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.