This week is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown. Like all gardens, many of Brown’s have been altered by later generations, but his work and principles survive. Where better for a family walk this weekend?
Syon House, Middlesex
A house for the Dukes of Northumberland, and really close to London — in fact Brown’s lake was made from an old Thames riverbed. There are fabulous conifers from Brown’s time and ancient oaks from long before. At this time of year the pleasure comes from straw-coloured meadowy lawns.
Petworth Park, West Sussex
You may well recognise Petworth from Turner’s misty painting of the endlessly wide house across the lake. You are likely to see deer grazing contentedly.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
Alnwick Castle sits high on a bank in a vast, rolling park just a spit from the North Sea. In the neighbouring Alnwick Garden, monumental hornbeam tunnels flank the steep cascade fountains.
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Brown was asked to design Blenheim for the soldier Duke of Marlborough, as a gift from a grateful nation. (Sir Winston Churchill was born there in 1874.) There are 20th-century formal water terraces with curving pools and fountains.
Brown cut his teeth at Stowe (now the school). Stand between the pillars of a mighty temple and look down the length of Brown’s particular contribution to Stowe, the Grecian Valley.
One of Brown’s favourite creations. The sober corner-towered house, reflected in the surface of the lake, is a glorious sight.
Drive through Brown’s creation at Chatsworth and see the house sitting comfortably in its setting. Don’t miss Joseph Paxton’s range of greenhouses and the splendid kitchen garden.
Wrest Park, Bedfordshire
Here is a landscape garden from the early 18th century, more geometric than Brown’s landscapes were, round which Brown created a softly encircling horseshoe of river. For once he did not wipe out his predecessor’s work. Don’t miss the newly restored rose garden stand before the house.
Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire
A great restoration project of original plants is being undertaken by the Duchess of Rutland and Alan Titchmarsh. The fairytale castle sits on a hilltop; and there is a rose garden by the Edwardian designer Harold Peto.
Berrington Hall, Herefordshire
Henry Holland’s chocolate-brown mansion overlooks Brown’s comfortable landscape. There’s an important fruit-tree collection here, where there will be many a pie-worthy apple ripening now.
Bowood House, Wiltshire
A superb example of Brown’s art, with rolling lawns and curving belts of sheltering trees wrapped round a mile-long lake. This year Bowood, above, is hosting a Brown exhibition with tours of his splendid landscape.
Audley End, Essex
You’ll find Brown’s green bowl of landscape on one side, and a fine Jacobean mansion and (if you time it right) riverside cricket all in whites on the other. The parterre garden is a curious blend — high formality, but planted with mixed summer perennials.
Highclere Castle, Hampshire
Highclere will always be Downton Abbey to the English-speaking world. Around the house, Brown’s lawns run to 1,000 acres, noted for the fine cedars. The waving grasses of the wildflower meadow may come and go, but the effect is always timeless.
One of only two portraits of the great man hangs here at Burghley. You have to pay to see the Sculpture Garden and Garden of Surprises, but on most days admission to the deer park is free.
Sherborne Castle, Dorset
Sherborne has that magnificent sense of spaciousness that a Brown landscape provides — views from indoors sweep out over the 50-acre lake that wraps round the house, to the green and artfully wooded banks beyond.