Gareth Williams, Weston Park
James Paine’s Roman Bridge of 1770 in Capability Brown’s Temple Wood, a pleasure garden created from 1765 at Weston Park, Shropshire
Blue and white dish with pierced rim made by the English firm of John & William Ridgway, a part of the Angus’s Seats series, showing Capability Brown’s Tong Castle, Shropshire, made circa 1815
Lancelot Brown, more commonly known as “Capability Brown”, was arguably the greatest English landscape architect of all time. It is estimated that in his career that spanned much of the eighteenth century, he was responsible for designing hundreds of gardens surrounding the finest country houses and estates in Britain. His landscapes were fundamentally different from the structured, formal gardens from the prior era. His picturesque style incorporated swaths of smooth, undulating grass, clumpings of specimen trees, and serpentine lakes formed by invisibly damming small rivers. To the classical eighteenth century mind, the harmony and calmness these man-made landscapes evoked presented nature as it ought to be.
Brown’s finished parks at Stowe, Blenheim and Wotton provided sights that were admired by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on their 1786 tour of Britain. Other American travelers also absorbed the sites of British landscape parks and derived their own inspiration, either directly from the works of Brown and his followers or from depictions of English landscapes in the decorative arts. The influence of Brown’s landscape style extended well beyond his lifetime, influencing great American designers like Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), who is often considered the father of American landscape architecture.
But what is less well known is that many of the most prized plants that formed a key part of Capability Brown’s pleasure grounds were of American origin, bringing a tangible link of America to the most quintessential of English settings. Brown and other English gardeners were able to use previously unknown plants such as sumaches, Gleditsia, Swamp Cypress and Catalpa trees. These brought a different sense of scale, foliage, color and grandeur to the English landscapes. Join us as Mr. Williams explores some of Brown’s greatest garden creations and how these influenced American landscape design over the last 250 years. In turn, he will also explore how American plants benefited English design.