Tag Archives: English gardens

Petworth: a Landscape by Capability Brown

September 9th, 2018 | 18 Comments »

On a sunny day, what could be more agreeable than strolling through a landscape designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown? Earlier this week, two friends and I took advantage of the fine weather to do just this when we visited Petworth House in Sussex.

The landscape there is one of the finest surviving examples of Brown’s work. Walking through the 700-acre park, the surroundings appear to be totally natural, but in reality Brown shaped each part of the land with his customary flair.


From the house, the lake cannot be seen.
This view from the house gives no hint of what is waiting near the small groups of trees.


A flat expanse in front of the house stretches across tawny fields to spots of trees and groves in the distance. Hidden behind rolling hills is a serpentine lake typical of Brown’s work. The shoreline of this Upper Pond curves in and out gently, and trees strategically positioned suggest that it might continue forever.


The lake ends in a gentle curves, then narrows before widening again. The end of the lake is out of sight.
Water sparkled in the sunlight, imbuing the lake with a touch of magic.


Many of the trees at Petworth seem old enough to have been planted in Brown’s day. They are magnificent, like elegant ladies who stand erect even while showing their age.


The shapes of the trunks were fabulous -- in the word's true sense.
The trunk of this ancient chestnut tree was knobbed and knotted. It was one of a dozen or more in a grove on top of a hill overlooking the Upper Pond.


Equally elegant in its old age is an urn nearby.


Weathered by age
Weathered but still beautiful, this urn near a grove of chestnut trees is positioned to attract the eye.


Many garden historians do not admire Brown’s landscape parks and criticize him for destroying important examples of garden history. Working at Petworth in the 1750s and 1760s, Brown wiped out the formal gardens designed by the royal gardener, George London, that included ramparts, terraces, parterres, an aloe garden and summer house.


The house was built
This narrow stone terrace is all that separates the house from the parkland.


Along with creating the Upper Pond and a smaller Lower Pond, Brown designed new carriageways to reveal the ‘capabilities’ of the site. These new routes offered visitors glimpses of the house through newly planted trees, so that Petworth’s full splendour could be admired on arrival.

The house
The house was built in 1682 when heiress Elizabeth Percy, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. The art collection includes major works by Van Dyck, Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough.

Brown also created a 30-acre Pleasure Ground with serpentine paths and informal planting, set off from the deer park by stone walls and a ha-ha, one of his signature features.


A woman standing inside the pleasure garden gives a sense of scale.
A woman standing inside the pleasure garden gives a sense of scale. The grove of chestnut trees is on the hill behind her.


The Pleasure Grounds provided the ideal location for the 3rd Earl of Egremont, a patron of plant collectors, to display his collection of North American trees and shrubs. Over the years, the area has gone through periods of development and stagnation. The National Trust, owner of the property, is now working to renew the area in order to accurately display the historical 
layers of the Pleasure Grounds and the important periods of its development.

One of those area being recreated is the view towards the Ionian Rotunda.


Yews have been planted to emphasize the view-line towards the Rotunda.
Yews have been planted to emphasize the view-line towards the Rotunda.


Following Brown’s advice, the Rotunda was built in 1766 in imitation of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, thereby adding a flavour of Italy, something which was seen highly desirable at the time.


An Ionian rotunda
The view from the Rotunda along the yew-lined allée gives an idea of the grandeur of the walk. Pleasure Grounds were designed to arouse a variety of emotions in the ladies and gentlemen who strolled the serpentine paths.


The Rotunda is one of two focal points in the Pleasure Grounds, the Doric Temple is the other. Originally situated in the Park, Brown relocated the temple to the Pleasure Grounds in the 1750s and it was moved to its present location in 1875, where the view over the countryside is particularly fine.  With its memorial to Henry Scawen Wyndham (1915-1942), who died in action at El Alamein, the temple adds a bit of gravitas to the grounds, evoking dignity, nobility and antiquity.


From this Doric temple, the view over the countryside is pure pastoral.
From this Doric temple, the view over the countryside is pure pastoral.


Flowers do not play a major role at Petworth. A narrow border edges one of the out buildings and a newly planted bed, looking a bit out of place, sits at one side of the house.


This unimaginative planting scheme doesn't live up to the dignity of the house and parkland at Petworth.
This unimaginative planting scheme doesn’t live up to the dignity of the house and parkland at Petworth.


More impressive is the pair of urns situated nearby.


Urns on pedestals match the grandeur of the house.
Urns on pedestals match the grandeur of the house.


The parkland is home to a herd of over 900 fallow deer, complimenting the idyllic ‘natural’ style that Capability Brown is lauded for.  The deer have plenty of room to roam — the wall around the 700-acre deer park is 14 miles long.

The Park and Pleasure Grounds at Petworth were one of Capability Brown’s earliest large-scale commissions. Considered by many to be his masterpiece, the site is well worth a visit.


The Way to Go, or Not to Go

May 15th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
The Grotto of the Deluge marks the division between primitive life and the beginning of civilization.
  One of the decisions I have to make when groups visit Glen Villa is which way to go. Shall I to lead the group around the garden this way or that? In some gardens the choice is made for you. There is a set route that the garden maker or garden owner wants you to take. Or that the government authority in charge has dictated. This is the case at Villa Lante, the Renaissance garden built for Cardinal Gamberaia and now owned by the government of Italy. The Cardinal's garden used water to


Malverleys: A Garden of Contrasts

November 27th, 2017 | 17 Comments »
Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still  dynamic and inventive.
Winter is almost here in Quebec, which means that not much is going on in the garden at Glen Villa. So instead of moaning about that, I'm remembering one of the gardens I visited in England last May. Malverleys is a large private estate, rarely open to the public, so the small group of gardeners who were on the tour I was hosting was fortunate to be able to visit. We were doubly fortunate to tour the garden in the company of Mat Reese, the head gardener. Anyone who subscribes to Gardens Illustrated, or


Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

June 7th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.
I'm home again at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after touring gardens in England. In ten days, the small group I was hosting visited 17 gardens, each special in its own way. Add in the Chelsea Flower Show and pre-tour visits to three other gardens and you can imagine the result: more photos and memories than a dozen blog posts can handle. Let me mention a few highlights. (More blog posts will come once I catch my breath and begin to assimilate all I saw.) The Chelsea Flower Show


Ascott: A Garden Review

October 25th, 2016 | 11 Comments »
The hours are shown in Roman numerals, the text in block letters circling behind.
Note: Recently I became aware of a technical glitz that was causing problems with the delivery of this blog. It has now been resolved. To those of you reading a blog post for the first time, even if you subscribed many months ago -- my apologies for the delay and welcome to the Site and Insight blog! I welcome your comments.   "It is magnificent. It is what God would have done if he had the money."   I don't know whose garden Noel Coward was describing when he penned those words, but you


Prospect Cottage: A Garden Review

October 12th, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The cottage retains its original strongly contrasting paint colours.
  The garden at Prospect Cottage, located in Kent on England's east coast, was created by the late Derek Jarmon, a filmmaker, diarist and early advocate of gay rights. It is a garden that sits lightly on the land while simultaneously conveying a powerful sense of place. It is also one that elicits a strong response from visitors. Either they like it or they don't, are intrigued by it or walk through quickly, dismissing what they see as a collection of rubbish with some flowers thrown in.   [caption id="attachment_4107" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]


The Gibberd Garden

June 6th, 2016 | 8 Comments »
A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein site is viewed comfortably through a house window.
  Sir Frederick Gibberd was an English architect, landscape designer and town planner. His design for Harlow New Town, generally regarded as the most successful of Britain's post-WWII developments, is his greatest achievement. His garden is his most personal. Located in Essex on the outskirts of the town he designed, the garden is little known and little visited, despite being called by BBC Gardeners' World one of the most important post-war gardens in the country.   [caption id="attachment_4032" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein is viewed comfortably


A Year of Visiting Gardens

December 20th, 2015 | 13 Comments »
This bridge is one of the most photographed features at Magnolia Plantation. To me the ovals reflected in the black water look like elongated eyes.
2015 was a bumper year for garden visits. I'm almost overwhelmed when I realize how many gardens I visited -- well over 100 by a quick count. Some days, I found the experience exhausting; every day it was fun. My year of visiting gardens started in February when I saw two outstanding gardens in South Carolina. Middleton Place lived up to its reputation as one of America's premier historic gardens. Begun by Henry Middleton in 1741,  the garden follows the principles of André Le Nôtre -- which means that order, balance and focal points enlivened by


Doing the Unexpected

November 15th, 2015 | 12 Comments »
Colour and shape smack you in the face.
Does your garden suffer from the blahs? You know, that late season feeling when everything looks past its best before date and a walk around the garden drags you down? That's how my garden has been looking recently, and that's how I've been feeling. But I may have found a remedy. To prepare for a short talk I gave last week, I flipped through my photographs of gardens in Scotland and the north of England. Some photos I passed by quickly, others made me stop for a second look. Why?


Througham Court: A Garden of Ideas

January 13th, 2015 | 7 Comments »
Througham Court 2013-116
Are gardens intellectual endeavours or places to soothe the spirits? If a garden is intended to be a conceptual work of art, does it succeed if it has to be explained? And what responsibility rests on the person viewing the garden to understand the ideas that shaped it? Make the questions personal: should I have to work to understand what a garden is about or is it enough merely to enjoy what I see? If I don't understand the ideas, on what basis do I judge the garden? Visiting Througham Court in