Continuing a mild obsessions with learning about garden history at the moment, and taking advantage of a visit to see my father in Malvern, we went on a trip to visit Croome Park, an example of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s English landscape garden. I’ve been boring friends and family over the past few weeks with talk of progressive realisation and unity of materials, so thought I’d bore you too.
Brown started work at Croome Park after leaving Stowe, where he had been head gardener. George William, the 6th Earl of Coventry, employed Brown to drain the ‘morass’ and landscape it according to the new style. The new style was naturalistic parkland right up to the house, doing away with all those old-fashioned parterre style gardens. To draw the eye, the pleasure gardens were artistically strewn with neo-classical buildings. A glimpse of a building around the corner or in the distance draws you on, revealing more of the garden, opening out views and surprising the visitor. Many of the buildings at Croome were designed by Robert Adam.
Major works were required to drain the marshy ground – you can still see some of the culverts that Brown had put in to drain water away from where it was not wanted, to where it was wanted. The bricks were made on site.
Previous, formal, gardens close to the house were destroyed, along with a church which the Earl felt was too close to the house. A new church, in a gothic style, was built in a much more attractive place – on the rise of the hill.
Brown oversaw the excavation of lake and river, using the serpentine curves indicative of the English landscape style. The river is entirely artificial – no mean feat when dug by hand. The lake took advantage of a boggy area rather unattractively called ‘Seggy Mere’. Now, it is a contemplative space, with mature trees reflected in the still waters.
The pleasure grounds curve round the view from the house, with pastureland in the foreground. A circular ha-ha keeps the animals in without restricting the view.
The landscape looks natural but is entirely manmade. Picturesque clumps of trees aren’t just plonked – they are designed to beautify the view. It’s amazing to think that as you look over the scene, it was done by hand, by men. No flowers, except some shrubs in the pleasure garden. No ornate parterres and symmetry as went before, but nevertheless man’s hand on the landscape. A little bit of knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but in this case a little bit of knowledge has allowed me a greater understanding of some of the gardens I have visited. This is particularly so in the case of the English landscape movement gardens, where before I just saw fields and trees. A very interesting visit.