Gardens of the World: The Capable Garden of Lancelot Brown

The New English Landscape

The Gardens of the World Series sent us on a global romp of changing garden influences throughout history. Each period and culture visited exhibits its own unique characteristics. During these periods there are notable designers, but, to me, none is more notable than William Kent and Lancelot Brown.

Two Major Influences

The epitome of the nature-dominated Renaissance gardens was the Palace of Versailles’ garden. In the 18th century, William Kent, an Englishman jumped the metaphorical fence of traditional gardens. Traditionally, gardens dominated and expelled nature. Designers sought to tame and control nature. William Kent viewed nature as a garden rather than a wild space. That notion was the beginning of the English gardens.

William Kent

William Kent’s famously retorted traditional garden design, stating, “nature abhors straight lines.” His ideas created the foundation of English gardens, which includes lakes, gently rolling hills, ruins, tree stands, bridges, meandering trails, and other forms of hidden architecture. Every view throughout the garden was to be viewed as a piece of art that offered peace to the viewers. These gardens became a definition of picturesque landscapes.

Kent’s garden design experiences began with the Chiswick House Garden, but as his notability grew, with other gardens that included Holkham Hall, Stowe Landscape, and Claremont Landscape Garden. Each of the gardens shows a dramatic shift in landscape and garden design during this period in England and throughout other parts of Europe.

Chiswick House Garden

Chiswick House Gardens, designed by William Kent, lays homage to ancient Roman Gardens. Immediately around Chiswick House Gardens Conservatory/Greenhouse consists of highly formalized gardens, but the remaining portions of the garden include strolling gardens that are characteristic of William Kent Designs. The landscape includes vast views of open, informalized space. Sprinkled around the landscape includes architecture follies and meandering trails.

One of the oldest and most notable parts of the garden are the Ionic Temple and Obelisk.
Stowe Landscape

This “landscape park” has multiple designers throughout its history, but William Kent introduced perambulating views. Rather than views from the home, Kent created “pictures” throughout the landscape requiring exploration.

Naturalistic features, such as a waterbody, are commonly contrasted with architectural elements or “architectural follies”.
Claremont Landscape Garden

A playground for Royalty, the Claremont Landscape Garden allows users to disappear into a landscape fantasy. Every square inch of the grand pastoral views, meandering walkways, wooded landscapes are intentional.

A view from the amphitheater towards the lake. Common views of Kent’s landscapes include water. Some views typically include an architectural folly to invoke exploration and curiosity,
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown

Kent’s prominence grew, so did his workers. One young designer that worked for William Kent was Lancelot Brown. Lancelot became known as Capability Brown because of his declaration of landscapes and gardens having great capabilities for improvement. As a young designer, Capability Brown worked on many projects with William Kent, including Stowe Landscape.

Brown’s success came from creating landscapes that celebrated nature, created vast views, planned for evolving landscapes, and created multi-functional gardens that doubled as livestock meadows or agriculture. Most notably, Capability Brown’s meticulously designed plans could not be differentiated from a natural landscape.

As people travel around England there’s a high likelihood that they will visit or see one of Capability Brown’s designs. He and his team are responsible for over 150 gardens around Britain. Some of the designs include Croome, Highclere Castle, and Harewood House.


Croome is Capability Brown’s first project after Stowe. The marshy landscape created difficulties regarding design. Therefore, Brown utilized water features to help drain the marshy landscape to create this early masterpiece.

The water feature drained the marshy landscape to a man-made lake. It also provided a barrier between a functional, livestock landscape and the main residence.
Highclere Castle

Downton Abby fans may recognize this landscape. With a combination of semi-formal gardens and large pastoral landscapes, the garden around Highclere Castle is a predominant Capability Brown landscape design. Many of the large pastoral landscapes depend on grassy, perennial landscapes abutting robust flowering beds.

Architectural follies are prominent features throughout this garden. Note the folly upon the upper hillside.
Harewood House

Capability Brown’s success came from his ability to create synthetic natural landscapes from seemingly nothing. John Jewell in 1822 described Harewood House’s gardens by stating, “The pleasure grounds, and gardens rare! Laid out, by Mr. Brown, with utmost care; With great abundance, all abound, and rich luxuriance smiles around: though both, which now such beauty yield, were lately but a furrow’s field.”

Harewood had highly formalized gardens immediately surrounding the home. Although, the views linked to a “natural landscape” created by Brown.


Global Influences

Capability Brown gardening styles still influence landscape architects and designers today. His influences are evident throughout American landscape gardens and parks. For example, Brown influenced the founding father of American Landscape Architecture, Fredrick Law Olmsted. These influences led to Olmsted’s design and creation of parks, such as Central Park in New York City.

Gardens of the World Series, Additional Articles

A Beginning Along a River

Expanding Empires

A Period of Darkness

Renaissance Gardens

Chinese & Japanese Gardens

A Capable Garden

A Great American Tradition

Interested in more gardening-related blogs or following Alachua County’s MGVs on Social Media? Check out the additional links from Dr. Clem.

Taylor’s Blog Homepage

Alachua County Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program Page

UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Master Gardeners, Facebook Page

UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County YouTube Page

Podcast: Extension Cord



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Posted: January 27, 2021

Category: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Design, Designer, FFL, Florida Friendly, Florida-Friendly Landscapes, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Gardening, Gardens Of The World, Horticulture, Landscape, Landscape Design, UF/IFAS Extension

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