Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was an English landscape architect during the 18th century, responsible for the spectacular parkland and gardens found in around 250 palaces, mansions and country estates. Visiting wealthy landowners, he often announced their estates had great ‘capabilities’, hence his nickname. Here are our favourites.
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Trentham, Staffordshire, for keen photographers
At the heart of pretty Trentham Gardens, situated four miles from Stoke-on-Trent, is a mile-long lake with cascading weir, designed by Capability Brown during the 21 years he worked here. Any visitor today should bring along a camera. There is a wealth of photo opportunities – the Floral Labyrinth is a photographer’s dream. If you need a willing model to pose for you, check out the cheeky chappies at Monkey Forest on the estate. Younger family members will love the fairy trail, and adventure playground with maze and zip wire.
Best for: snap-happy gardeners.
Also good for: shoppers – enjoy some retail therapy at the shopping village on Trentham Estate. There’s a garden centre too.
For more details: Trentham Gardens
Hampton Court, Surrey, for a huge grape vine
You’ll find grapes galore every August on the Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace, 13 miles south of central London. The impressive Black Hamburg vine, measuring four metres around the base and with a rod over 36 metres long, is said to be the largest grape vine in the world – and was planted in 1768 when ‘Capability’ Brown was George III’s chief royal gardener. Capability Brown lived in Wilderness House on the estate until his death in 1783, aged 67. The property now boasts an English Heritage Blue Plaque.
Best for: fruit growing enthusiasts.
Also good for: young historians – a magic garden, puzzle trails and a chocolate kitchen will ensure all the family have fun.
For more details: Hampton Court Palace
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Blenheim Palace. Photograph: Amra Pasic / Shutterstock.com
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, for big ambitions
If the magnificent Baroque palace at Blenheim, near Woodstock, doesn’t leave you speechless – and it truly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage Site status – then the surrounding striking parkland surely will. Spanning over 2000 acres, the elaborate landscape at Blenheim is considered by many as Capability Brown’s finest work – it’s certainly one of his biggest. Find out more about Brown’s designs on a self-guided trail. Or take a traditional horse and carriage ride so you can view the park as it was intended.
Best for: Brown’s biggest fans – this is his work on a great grand scale.
Also good for: Winston Churchill admirers – the former Prime Minister was born at Blenheim. A memorial garden celebrates his life and legacy.
For more details: Blenheim Palace
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Weston, Staffordshire, for pleasure seekers
For an 18th-century garden to be perfect, it had to include a kitchen garden, orchard, park, pleasure grounds, orangery and menagerie – and ‘Capability’ Brown ensured these all featured in his detailed plans for Weston in Weston-under-Lizard. The pleasure grounds – Temple Wood and Shrewsbury Walk – continue to live up to their name today, and the walled kitchen garden, laid out by Brown, still provides the head chief with fruit and herbs. A fun way to enjoy Brown’s woodland is on Merlin, a miniature train.
Best for: jovial walkers.
Also good for: a weekend stay – accommodation is available in the Temple of Diana. Brown’s menagerie of exotic birds was in the property’s grounds.
For more details: Weston Park
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Stowe, Buckinghamshire, for gardening inspiration
A slow meander around the Grecian Valley in the gardens at Stowe House, Buckinghamshire, will transport you back to the 18th century, to the time when an unknown Lancelot Brown was promoted to head gardener and given his first commission. The result - monuments, temples and breathtaking views over rolling hills, which have inspired gardeners and visitors ever since. One fan, Catherine the Great, was keen to replica Brown’s designs in St Petersburg. While at Stowe, Capability Brown married his wife, Bridget Wayet – the Parish Church is in the gardens.
Best for: National Trust members - see where Brown’s career all began.
Also good for: Greek mythology lovers – find out more about the Paths of Virtue and Vice, and Hercules’ dilemma between good and bad.
For more details: Stowe
Harewood, west Yorkshire, for a spot of romance
Want to woo a special someone? Then head to Harewood, near Leeds, and together take in the idyllic view over 1000 acres of parkland, complete with 32-acre serpentine lake and cascading waterfall. Artist JMW Turner was certainly impressed by Capability Brown’s designs and captured the romantic scene in one of his famous works. Love birds may also enjoy a visit to the Bird Garden, with its parrots, owls, flamingos and penguins. A new farm experience also allows you to meet a family of pygmy goats, pot-bellied pigs and alpacas.
Best for: old romantics with a young Dr Dolittle in tow.
Also good for: telly addicts – Harewood House featured in Brideshead Revisited, and the village of Emmerdale is set in Harewood Estate.
For more details: Harewood
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