Britain's Finest Gardens - Celebrating Capability Brown
by Dinah Hatch (July 2016)
This year we are celebrating the tercentenary of the world’s most famous landscape gardener (no, not Alan Titchmarsh) and here at Britain’s Finest we can think of no better way to mark the genius of Capability Brown than to spend the summer in sensible walking shoes and a hardy pair of shorts in order to visit some of the country’s most glorious gardens. Here are some of our favourites…
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Lancelot Capability Brown began his career as a member of Lord Cobham’s gardening staff at Stowe, working under William of Kent who is credited for the (at the time) new English style of landscape gardening. Much like the gardens he tended to, he flourished and became master gardener in his mid-twenties, becoming much-sought after by local aristocracy. Stowe these days, especially after a major restoration in 2015, is a glorious testament to his skills. Glittering ornamental lakes, dense winding wooded valleys, mystical temples and sweeping vistas create vastly different settings depending on what time of day you visit. A picnic and a bottle of white amongst the wildflowers of the Grecian Valley is hard to top.
Wisley is the gardener’s garden of choice, offering guidance and inspiration to aspiring horticulturalists everywhere. From the Alpine Display Houses to the spring and summer flamboyancy of Battleston Hill with its rhododendron dazzle, there is so much to see it will take you many visits to absorb it all. Drift along the Glasshouse Borders overflowing with flowers and foliage, explore the Seven Acres with its lily ponds, specimen trees and varied beds or go and investigate the non-yellow daffodils, cultivated by Wisley curator Matthew Pottage. We love the Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden for a blast of pure Englishness and the sultry Mediterranean Walk, where hardy cacti rule the roost.
School Lane, Blockley, Moreton-in-Marsh
Mill Dene Garden, School Lane, Blockley, Moreton-in-Marsh, Cotswolds The fact that this simply ravishing garden was started up by a family who knew less about horticulture than my cat Roland is rather inspiring. The Dares bought up Mill Dene in sections between 1964 and 1975 and only in 1990 did they roll up their sleeves and begin the process of creating a garden. Only two years later, the garden was ready to be opened to the public and such is its success that it is now an RHS partner. Based around a 10th century mill, pond and stream, there is a stunning woodland walk to explore and a divine cricket pitch with a herb garden with stunning hillside views. Look out for Mill Dene’s Quiet Garden Days, when tea and coffee is served, a short introduction to the gardens is given and then you are left to roam the gardens in peace or read, paint or sew in the grounds.
The medieval castle at Powys sits amongst some of the loveliest gardens in Wales – all laid out in stunning French and Italianate style. Visitors come from all over the world to see what is said to be one of the finest surviving examples of Baroque garden design. Go seek the long-ago forged lead dancing statues, the fleeting deer, smartly clipped yews and the elegant orangery on the terraces blasted from solid rock. Generations of the Herbert family have roamed these historic paths and meadows and their shape and look has changed to match the family’s fortunes. You can just imagine them gathered on the grassy terraces, which overlook the entire formal gardens as well as the Welsh hillsides, plotting their rise to power.
Flashes of oranges, yellows and browns set the scene at Benmore Botanic Gardens, crouched in a mountainside spot on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll. Enter the gardens via Redwood Avenue, a line of sierra redwoods planted in 1863 by wealthy American owner Piers Patrick and continued by subsequent owners to form one of the grandest entrances to a garden you will see anywhere. These gardens are known for their cultivation of species from Bhutan, Tasmania and the Chilean rainforest so expect to learn something new! Summer highlights for Benmore include late-flowering rhododendrons, magnolias and azaleas plus American snowdrop trees, Oriental Snowballs and the Epaulette Tree with its beautiful foliage and fragrant white bells.
Sheffield Park, Uckfield
Let’s end with a garden partly designed and deeply influenced by Capability Brown (with a nod to Humphry Repton). I sometimes think the finest few paces I have ever walked in terms of scenery are the ones along the Palm Walk at Sheffield Park. When the sun is shining and the ivory white spring blossoms nod through the palms, it is unbearably beautiful. But there is so much more in these 120 acres; four lakes to circle which form the centrepiece, masses of Ghent azaleas to admire and a kaleidoscope of colours to absorb come autumn when the Japanese maples, oaks, beeches, birches and swamp cypresses come into their own. Sit quietly and stare at the clouds reflecting in the water as you sup from a cuppa from one of the many strategically placed drinks carts around the gardens. Bliss.
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