by Laura Mayer

Publisher: Shire Publications (July 2011) Shire Library No 646
ISBN 978-0747810490


Although the title has Capability Brown’s name in prime position, this book deals with the evolution of the style that is now recognised worldwide as quintessentially English. In the early 18th century the prevailing style for large estates was Franco-Dutch, with parterres and long allées, demanding high maintenance and acres of farmland. The first half of the book describes the gradual return to a more naturalistic appearance with enhancement of natural features already present in the landscape; inclusion of ‘classical’ buildings and other more exotic structures defining the ‘Rococo’ period.

In about 1750 and halfway through this book Brown appears on the scene. He began to strip away the excesses of the Rococo period, which is perhaps why comparatively few gardens of that period remain, and to design gardens to which an ordinary country gentleman could relate, and which were comparatively easy to maintain. Brown started his working life as a gardener on his brother-in-law’s estate where he became highly proficient in many aspects of land management, such as planting, drainage, dam building as well as plant management. By the time he was 25 he had been appointed head gardener at Stowe; there, his employer lent him out to various aristocratic neighbours to ‘improve’ their estates. After his patron’s death he set up his own business in Hammersmith where he proved to be a shrewd and highly successful businessman; although his initial charges were high, his landscaped parks containing serpentine lakes, bare lawns and informal clumps of trees were economical to run and allowed full scope for grazing animals as well as for sporting activities. At the time of his death more than 170 estates had been ‘improved’ following his designs; an appendix to this book lists more than 30 such properties that may still be visited.

The book concludes with a short chapter on Humphrey Repton who followed Brown’s principles but scaled them down so that they could be applied to comparatively modest properties.

Alison Newton
Hilary Bosher