'Capability' Brown's best English gardens

Aerial view of 18th century Blenheim Palace and grounds. Garden designed by Capability Brown.

The year 2016 marks the tercentenary of English landscape designer Capability Brown's birth - and, with celebrations galore planned, we thought we'd use the occasion as an excuse to show you some of his most beautiful creations.

See also: The most beautiful hotel gardens in the world

See also: Ten of the best British gardens

Lancelot Brown's nickname 'Capability' came from his fondness for speaking about a country estate having a great 'capability' for improvement. Although his popularity fell into decline after his death, it began to recover in the last century - and by 1980 he was being recognised as a 'genius' of English garden architecture.​

He is often described as the 'Shakespeare of English garden design' - and, although he was born 300 years ago, his incredible talent is still wonderfully demonstrated in gardens all over the country.

During his life, Brown took gardens to a whole new dimension, introducing a more 'natural' style to some of the most formal public and private green spaces in the land - and he left behind the legacy of the quintessential garden for which England is famous. Many examples of his work are open to the public, while others are well maintained as golf courses.

In the run-up to a year of celebrations marking 300 years since Brown's birth, we got together with VisitEngland to look at some of his greatest works.

Capability Brown's best British gardens
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'Capability' Brown's best English gardens
This is probably the most important commission in ‘Capability' Brown's career - and it was certainly his longest. It took him "25 years of pleasure" to complete. Burghley is one of England’s greatest Elizabethan houses, with buildings and gardens dating back to the 16th century. At the beautiful 300-acre deer park, you can see his signature lake and avenues of mature trees. Stroll around the Historical Garden of Surprises, hidden from the outside it features obelisks, statues, flowing water and fountains. The Contemporary Sculpture Garden is dedicated to exhibiting innovative sculptures. For more information go to burghley.co.uk.

Croome was Capability Brown's first commission for a house and parkland - and what a masterpiece it is. This incredible restoration project started more than 17 years ago and continues today. What was then a lost and overgrown 18th century parkland has been restored to Capability Brown's very first landscape design. Croome Court’s restoration encourages visitors to see the transformation from inside and out. Climb the scaffolding for a stunning view! This grand house will emerge in all its glory during 2016. For more information go to nationaltrust.org.uk/croome.
The gardens at Blenheim are a masterpiece for scale ,with more than 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland. Noted as “the most beautiful view in England”, the Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The award-winning formal gardens, commissioned by the ninth Duke of Marlborough, include a secret garden, majestic water terraces, a fragrant rose garden and the grand cascade and lake. In the Pleasure Gardens, you can hop aboard the miniature train, get lost in the giant maze or visit the tropical butterfly house.  Visit ​blenheimpalace.com for more information.
Capability Brown's vision for Harewood was to ensure the gardens were as imposing as the house. He did this by building an enormous lake (32 acres), which can still be seen today. Harewood House is a grade I listed building full of art, including an early collection of watercolours by Turner. Take time to enjoy this magnificent 100 acre garden where you can see the Terrace, Lakeside Garden, Himalayan Garden and Walled Garden. Admire the grand sweep of the 1,000 acre park and Harewood estate as you stroll around the lake. But don’t leave without a visit to the Bird Garden, home to penguins, owls, flamingos and parrots. =
'Capability' Brown was responsible for softening the gardens with a series of elaborate serpentine lakes. English Heritage took over Wrest Park in 2006 and has restored it to its former glory. Explore the 90 acres of grounds where you can see French, Dutch, Italian and English styles sitting side by side and spanning across three centuries of design. There’s plenty to see at Wrest Park including a number of hidden gems – the Bath house with cobbled floor inlaid with a pattern of deer bones, a Chinese temple and bridge and over 40 statues. 
By the mid 18th century 'Capability' Brown had become the ‘celebrity’ landscape gardener and his work at Chatsworth transformed the gardens to mirror the magnificence of the house. Loved by all who visit, Chatsworth is one of England’s greatest treasure houses and gardens. This 18th century Capability Brown garden with over 105 acres is full of surprises. It’s most famous for its 200ft (61m) fountain, rock garden and surviving Joseph Paxton glasshouses and contemporary sculptures. Join a free one-hour garden tour where you’ll learn all about its history, including Brown's landscape designs. Take time to explore this dramatic house, home of the Cavendish family since the 1550s. Full of works of art spanning over 4,000 years, there’s something to delight every visitor from Roman and Egyptian sculptures to masterpieces from Rembrandt, Reynolds and Veronese. 
'Capability' Brown was appointed by King George III to look after the gardens of Hampton Court Palace and lived there with his family. This was an important appointment as it raised his status amongst the nobility. He is thought to have planted the great vine in 1768, which is still producing a crop of sweet grapes today (you can buy them from the shop in early September). Hampton Court Palace is of unique historical and horticultural importance. The park covers 750 acres of land, set by the River Thames. Stroll around the 60 acres of beautiful formal gardens where you’ll see The Privy Garden, Tiltyard Walls, Rose Garden and The Great Fountain Garden. 
Trentham is one of Brown's most celebrated successes and his work continues today with a restoration of one of his lost landscapes. This is a must-see award-winning English garden with a mile long ‘Capability’ Brown designed lake, Italian Garden, woodland and maze. Enjoy his impressive lake on foot or on water – walk around the lake path (it’s 2 miles!) or hop aboard the Miss Elizabeth boat. This garden is a photographer’s dream throughout the year, with picture-perfect views at every turn. Look carefully and you may even see some fairies. There’s plenty more to entertain you at Trentham, including a shopping village and garden centre and for the more adventurous, there's the Monkey Forest and Aerial Extreme, a tree-based high ropes adventure course. (trentham.co.uk)
'Capability' Brown was baptised in 1716 in the tiny Northumbrian village of Kirkharle,and un 1732 he was appointed apprentice gardener at Kirkharle Hall. Today Kirkharle estate, including a lake and courtyard, is open to visitors. An exhibition here tells you all about Brown’s achievements. His original plan for the grounds was discovered hidden away in Kirkharle Hall and has recently been used to shape the gardens and build a lake. Follow the 900m lakeside pathway to discover his emerging 18th century landscape and experience a garden design in the making. Pop into one of the many boutique shops, where you’ll find individual art, jewellery and gifts. You can even take home some ‘Back to Nature’ ‘Capability’ Brown soap... Visit kirkharlecourtyard.co.uk for more info.

Stowe was ‘Capability’ Brown’s first major commission - and today is one of the most magnificent landscape gardens in England. He started his career as head gardener here at the age of 26 in 1741, and he was married and lived at Stowe for 10 years. A picture-perfect English garden now managed by National Trust has attracted visitors for more than 300 years. Stowe has fabulous views, lakes and temples all joined up with winding paths and a timeless landscape. In the 18th century, Stowe rivalled many of the royal gardens and was loved by all who visited, including Catherine the Great of Russia, who copied many aspects at her own gardens near St Petersburg.  For more information, visit nationaltrust.org.uk/stowe.            

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