Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Olmsted, and Scarboro

thegardener's picture

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was baptised three hundred years ago this August. As a young man working in large gardens he discarded the idea of arranging beds formally - as exemplified in Versailles - and favoured the integration of garden and countryside, regressing from more controlled gardens near the grand houses, to more rural character further away. He also used ‘ha-ha’s (a ha-ha is an asymmetrical ditch with a steep side near the house that grazing cattle and sheep cannot climb up) to trick the observer into believing that different pieces of parkland, though managed quite differently, were one. Water features were often used to convey a restful scene (restful except to the army of workers who maintained the estate).
Gardens and design evolve over time, so some gardens credited to Capability Brown –Highclere House (“Downton Abbey”) may not have changed, but some, such as Scampston in Yorkshire, have changed and are influenced by modern designers such as Piet Oudolf, from the Netherlands, whose ideas have been used worldwide. We have inherited many ideas from the 18th and 19th century parklands of the UK, simply on a smaller scale!
In 1858, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won a design competition to improve Central Park in Manhattan: probably some of their ideas came from Brown’s focus on the seemingly unstructured combination of lawns, shrub and trees. Olmsted constructed walkways that flowed through the landscape with gentle grades and easy curves: over the next half century Olmsted’s family continued to design public parks to meet a wide range of recreational needs. In 1909, Canadian Pacific retained the Olmsted firm - lead by Olmsted's sons Frederick Jr and John Charles - to design Sunalta and "Royal Sunalta" (Scarboro's original name). The Olmsted principles are apparent throughout our neighbourhood – nonconforming houses, with long set-backs to preserve the visual street-scape, and wide streets and broad “parkland” green spaces to bring a feeling of community to the residents: fortunately we still enjoy this heritage.

gw et al, March 25, 2016