Capability Brown anniversary results in tree-mendous legacy

Thousands of trees have been planted across England as part of the Capability Brown Festival, which last year celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the man who shaped much of the British landscape as we know it today.

About Capability Brown

Brown was one of the 18th century’s most successful and pioneering entrepreneurs, masterminding hundreds of ambitious landscape design projects.  He is associated with more than 250 landscapes across England and Wales, and his impressive clientele included King George III, six Prime Ministers, seven Dukes, 26 Earls, 19 Knights and Baronets, two generals and a judge.

Landscape design

His landscapes feature a range of stylistic elements, including the carefully considered planting of trees, from the exotic and highly fashionable Cedar of Lebanon planted individually, to other species clustered in clumps or belts of trees to define and guide visitors through the landscapes.  He described his process to Hannah More, a leading intellectual of the day in terms of punctuation “‘Now there’, said he, pointing his finger, ‘I make a comma, and there … where an interruption is desirable to break the view, a paren­thesis; now a full stop, and then I begin another subject’. Trees formed a great part of these plans for punctuating the landscape. Brown had an incredible vision, and was able to envisage how young and newly planted trees would eventually look, centuries before they grew to maturity.  He also maintained established trees, and devised a special tree-moving machine, which to this day is still considered an effective way of transplanting fully grown trees.

Carrying on the legacy

Now, 300 years on, several of his original landscapes have been carrying on his legacy, reinstating original tree locations and planting new trees.  Plantings range from a single iconic Cedar of Lebanon planted at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, to the creation of the entire parkland at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire using Brown’s original plans

Wildlife havens

Besides visitors being able to access and enjoy his spectacular landscapes today, the wood pasture and parkland Brown created provides a haven for our native wildlife.  Many of the trees Brown planted have survived, and these ancient and ‘veteran’ trees have become full of nooks and crannies and rotting wood, which support thousands of different species of plants, animals and fungi, some of which cannot live anywhere else.

Ceryl Evans, Capability Brown Festival Director said: “The Capability Brown Festival has been about encouraging people to better understand Brown’s influence, and get outdoors and enjoy the stunning landscapes he left behind.  Although the Festival has come to a close, it is very satisfying to know that future generations will be able to continue to benefit from his legacy, thanks to all those working so hard today to care for these historic landscapes.”

Many Brown landscapes will soon be re-opening after the winter season. You can find the one nearest you, by visiting the interactive map 

Summary of Capability Brown Festival tree planting projects

Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire 

The 11th Duchess rediscovered Brown’s lost plans for the estate and embarked on an extensive two-year creation of the landscape of her family home as per Brown’s original plan. Guided by Brown’s plan, 110 acres of woodland have been felled to reveal many of his original views and vistas. 83,000 new trees have been planted, 17 miles of new road put in place, 15 acre-feet of water in abandoned ponds and lakes restored and a further 110 acres of undergrowth in woodland gardens has been cleared. In addition, a collection of unusual and rare plants which thrive on acid soil is on view.

Berrington Hall, Herefordshire (cared for by the National Trust)

Berrington’s three-year plan for restoring the parkland to Brown’s original vision for the estate will see over 350 trees replanted in their original locations, and conifers removed to reinstate lost views of the mansion and wider landscape.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

The 12th Duke of Marlborough, Jamie Spencer-Churchill, planted a Cedar of Lebanon tree in January 2017 to mark the 300th anniversary since Capability Brown’s birth.

Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire

The Northamptonshire Gardens Trust gifted trees to local schools and organisations which visited Castle Ashby to learn about and enjoy Brown’s landscape.  Castle Ashby is particularly noted for its beautiful collection of veteran trees including cedars, chestnuts and a grove of bundled limes.

Compton Verney, Warwickshire

A Cedar of Lebanon was planted in November 2016 in memory of founder Sir Peter Moores, who passed away earlier that year. The cedar was propagated from a tree brought to Britain during Brown’s lifetime and supplied by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as part of the International Conifer Conservation Programme.

Croome Court, Worcestershire (cared for by the National Trust)

Gardeners are planting individual trees in the parkland, as well as gapping up a woodland with several hundred trees.  Croome was Brown’s first independent commission in 1751 and he was involved there for 30 years.  

Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire

A Cedar of Lebanon will be planted on Sunday 23 April 2017 at a special event in Fenstanton, the village where Brown intended to retire and where his final resting place is in the village churchyard.  The tree is descended from true Cedars of Lebanon as part of the International Conifer Conservation Programme.

Kirkharle, Northumberland

Brown’s daily walks from Kirkharle – his birthplace – to Cambo school provided inspiration for his work.  In November 2016, children from three local schools, including Cambo, planted 420 saplings of birch, cherry, oak and rowan into the Kirkharle landscape which is being redeveloped based on a Brown plan for the 1770s.

Stansted Park, Hampshire

A special elm tree was planted in Stansted Forest to commemorate the Embroiderers’ Guild Capability Brown Exhibition at Stansted Park, Rowlands Castle, Hampshire. All trees donated to Stansted Park are recorded in the “Tree Book” which is housed in a glass cabinet in the house for all to see.

Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire (cared for by the National Trust)

As part of their ‘1000 trees in 10 years’ campaign, Wimpole has planted around 120 trees in the west side of the park.

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