Friday, August 26, 2016

High Capability, Mr. Brown

[First, congratulations to Dawn Pearson, who won the three autographed books from last week. Many of you guessed here and on Facebook. The answer to the question as to the actor I had in mind as my physical model for Simon Wallin in the upcoming A Convenient Christmas Wedding was a young Val Kilmer. Thanks for commenting, all!]

August 30 marks the 300 year anniversary of the birth of an extraordinary man, for whom we can credit much of the landscape of 18th and 19th century English estates. That man was Capability Brown. Suitable name for a fellow who specialized in landscaping, don’t you think?

His first name, however, was actually Lancelot. Capability was his nickname, possibly because he is quoted as having said that his landscapes had great capabilities. Born in 1716 in Northumberland, to a father who was a land agent and a mother who worked in the great house of Kirkharle, where he first apprenticed and then became a gardener when he was 23. After a few other assignments on various estates, he moved to the great house at Stowe, where he tutored under the landscape master William Kent and was given greater and greater responsibility for the landscape and architecture. He would go into business for himself and ultimately serve as Master Gardener for George III at Hampton Court.

Brown had a simple idea for his landscapes—combine elegance with comfort. Ornamental ponds were placed so as to resemble a natural river winding through the estate. Buildings were tucked in around plants and not the other way around. Some say his work was underappreciated because it so closely resembled nature that no one knew how hard he’d worked to achieve the effect!

Whether he simply provided plans for the landowner to follow, sent a foreman to make sure the work was done to his specifications, or oversaw the work himself, Brown contributed to more than 260 projects during his lifetime. Nearly 60% of those projects are still in place today.

Brown himself did not do well financially, alas. It seems he sometimes allowed his clients to determine what his work was worth, occasionally earning less than he would have been paid otherwise. He died when he was only 66, collapsing from his work.

But he certainly left his mark on the English landscape. Not surprisingly, a number of locations are celebrating his 300th birthday. For more information, try

The Capability Brown Festival, managed by the Landscape Institute 

National Trust links to sites celebrating the anniversary 

Blenheim Palace Festival site 

Harewood festival site 

All I can say is that when it comes to gardening, there’s very little capability and a whole lot of brown at my house.

And speaking of houses, Marissa and I sticking around our houses on vacation next week leading up to Labor Day weekend. But I'll be back right after Labor Day to celebrate the launch of A Rancher of Convenience. :-)


Lynn Lovegreen said...

Clever--enjoy your break, Regina and Marissa!

Regina Scott said...

Thanks, Lynn!

QNPoohBear said...

I just saw the play "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard and a large part of the show centers around landscape design. They name dropped Capability Brown, though I think they got their design styles mixed up. I think I was the only one who knew what the heck they were talking about.

Regina Scott said...

Too funny, QNPoohBear. I have that trouble sometimes with television, movies, or even books. I know too much about a small number of areas. When they come up, I pay attention!