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Natural or designed? 6 ways to recognise the English Landscape Style

The English Landscape Style

One might view a typical English landscape and assume it is natural. But is it? This is a year in which birthday congratulations are owed to a remarkable landscape architect. Capability Brown actually helped to create the English landscape as we recognise it today. He moulded hills and valleys into the archetypal  scenery that we believe to be natural.

Gatton Park, Capability Brown, landscape, design, architect, garden, 300th, birthday Gatton Park near Reigate is a beautiful Capability Brown landscape near Reigate in Surrey.

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown was born 300 years' ago next month. He is no longer around to enjoy the landscapes that he created. But his gardens are alive and growing. Arguably known as ‘England’s greatest gardener’, Brown’s landscapes incorporate some of the following features.

  • Rolling hills.
  • Curving ponds, flowing, serpentine lakes and rivers.
  • Awe-inspiring bridges.
  • Majestic copses of trees.
  • Eye-catching viewpoints from which there are tempting glimpses of focal features. Follies, temples, ‘ruins’, and statues were all part of his designed landscape.
  • Ha-has.
Petworth House and Park, West Sussex, deer park, Petworth, landscape, Capability Brown, garden, design, landscape architect Petworth House and gardens in Sussex was landscaped by 'Capability' Brown. His landscapes appear to be 'natural', that's part of their charm.

A ha-ha is a form of ditch used to separate the garden from the fields. The use of a ha ha means that there are no unsightly fences necessary and therefore the beautiful view can be fully enjoyed.

ha ha, ha-ha, Capability Brown, landscape, garden, design. landscape architect The idea of a ha-ha is that you hardly know it's there. It separates the garden from the wider landscape without needing to use a fence.

Brown used many native tree species but also American planes, weeping willows and cedars too. Most remarkably, Brown had little machinery with which to work and much of the landscaping was done by hand. He hired teams consisting of hundreds of people and the re-modelling of the landscape took many months or even years.

Cedar tree, Compton Verney, Capability Brown, landscape, cedar, tree, magnificent, species This magnificent cedar tree is part of the Capability Brown landscape at Compton Verney in Warwickshire.

Where can you go to admire Capability Brown’s legacy? Sussex has many fine examples. Ashburnham Place, covering some 200 acres near Battle, was designed by Brown and it includes the trademark lakes around the house and even an orangery which houses the oldest camellia in England. Brightling Park, also in East Sussex, is also rumoured to have been influenced by Brown. Owned by the Fuller family whose wealth was built on the Wealden iron industry, Lancelot Brown’s son, who was also called Lancelot, actually married Mad Jack Fuller’s aunt the year after his father’s death.

The Rotunda, Stowe, gardens, landscape, Capability Brown, design, architect, folly, temple Follies and temples were all part of Capability Brown's design. They created vistas and provided a 'destination' and a focal point.

Petwork Park, a 700 acre deer park that nestles in the South Downs, was designed by Brown. As was the privately owned Compton Place in Eastbourne, which is not open to the public. Sheffield Park, near Fletching in Sussex, still has the walks through the woodlands created by Brown, with clearings to give views down to the lakes and the village.

Perhaps Brown's most recognised and revered gardens are Stowe in Buckinghamshire; Croome in Worcestershire; Chatsworth in Derbyshire; Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and Highclere Castle which was made even more famous as a setting within Downton Abbey.  In fact there are around 260 landscapes in England that have been designed or influenced by Capability Brown including Cowdray Park near Midhurst, Sussex, which was created between 1768 and 1774, just before Cowdray House burnt down in a tragic fire. A single invoice for the amount of around £3400 is the only evidence of paperwork to survive, but the landforms of his great work are obvious.

Bridge at Stowe, Capability Brown, landscape, bridge, palladian The Palladian bridge at Stowe gardens, Buckinghamshire. An iconic landmark over a man-made series of lakes that look like a river.

What’s Native and what’s not?

Many of us like the idea of planting only ‘natives’ in the garden. But what exactly does native mean? The British Isles actually has only a few endemic species and this can be attributed to previous glacial activity and also because we are an island which is close to the continent of Europe. The ice age actually had the effect of ‘wiping clean’ the ecology at which time most species were forced out by the ice and temperature.

ice age, UK, planet, ice, environment, native, species The ice age wiped out most of the native life when it occurred over 10,000 years ago.

Basically, species are deemed native only if they reach the country without human intervention. Among the extensive list of plants that could be considered to be native are some of our most recognisable wild flowers and ‘weeds’. Dandelion, for example; common sorrel, betony, field scabious, campanula, cowslip, meadow buttercup, ox eye daisy, purple loosestrife, ragged robin, campion, yellow flag iris, foxglove and primrose.

Red campion, native, species, wildflowers, biodiversity, flower, weed, British Red campion is a native species. Beautiful wild flower that has occurred naturally in the UK.

Native trees are those which colonised Britain after the ice age, about 10,000 years ago. Then there are ‘naturalised’ trees that came after the Channel was formed when ancient rivers expanded. The true natives include ash, alder, birch, blackthorn, cherry, crab apple, elder, hawthorn, hazel, oak, rowan and spindle.

Spindle tree, euonymus europeaus, native, shrub, tree, wildlife, uk, Britain The spindle tree, Euonymus europeaus, is a beautiful native species with berries that are not only glorious but loved by birds.

It soon becomes obvious that a garden filled with natives will be lovely for insects and wildlife but perhaps lack the high-impact to which we have become accustomed. There’s nothing wrong with using the expertise of breeders and growers in order to fill our gardens with plants that look gorgeous. The thing to avoid is a ‘monoculture’. Diversity is the key. It provides something for everyone and that’s healthy for all.

Butterfly, wild flower, flower, native, biodiversity, UK Butterflies love native flowers.