Capability Brown Tercentenary, 1716 to 2016

Capability Brown Tercentenary, 1716 to 2016

Steffie Shields

Planning for the 2016 Celebrations was launched at Ampthill Park on 13 June, hosted by Ampthill Council.

Exciting momentum is building towards planning national events, portable travelling exhibitions and sharing more landscapes with a wider public and the younger generations. About 150 delegates attended from all the key organisations involved in the garden world, and also including Visit Britain and Visit England, and many owners and managers of Brown sites, and representatives of many county gardens trusts from around the country.

Johnny Phibbs (3rd from right) and colleagues at Ampthill

Johnny Phibbs (3rd from right) and colleagues at Ampthill

Landscape historian Johnny Phibbs showed us all how to read the key design features of this significant Bedfordshire landscape, now a public park. We were shown that events do not have to be complicated or costly. At Ampthill, they simply hired and erected an eye-catcher, a colourful, striped ‘Turkish’ tent in the middle of the park landscape (below); inside were cool lemonade and a basket of strawberries for refreshment. Johnny had arranged for cheerful and helpful volunteer park rangers to be stationed at key points around the park who had been primed to explain each special feature, an animated landscape! After just a day’s training one said he was seeing a landscape he had known all his life in a new light.

A blue and white tent makes a focal eye-catcher in Ampthill Park - and place for refreshment!

A blue and white tent makes a focal eye-catcher in Ampthill Park – and place for refreshment!

Delegates were able to explore freely, observe, think, discuss, network; enjoying a walk in the sunshine, exploring how Brown left intact an existing lime avenue and exploited the fascinating topography of the Greensand Ridge, with carriage rides amongst clumps of intermingled beech, sweet chestnut and Scots pine still framing memorable views.

A lively question-time and ideas brainstorming session followed, ably chaired by Jenifer White of English Heritage. It is widely recognised that county gardens trust volunteers will be key in sharing contacts, thorough research for observer’s guides, and linking parks with trails, so as to assist owners and managers of Brown landscapes with hubs and celebratory events all over the country. This will be a remarkable opportunity for county gardens trusts to raise their profile, to assist with HLF bids and to encourage apprentice schemes. The nursery trade should start propagating Brown’s favoured young trees now; and indeed Mike Calnan announced that the National Trust is about to open a new propagating facility.

The day was expertly summed up by Gilly Drummond, President of the AGT, focusing our aims and endeavours towards “new audiences, to inspire, educate and entertain”.

The AGT will build on Brown’s legacy by working with schools, and will help towards putting his prolific works in context. Above all, we will demonstrate how, despite the passage of 300 years, ‘Capability’ Brown, the world’s most famous landscape architect, is still very relevant to conserving and managing 21st century horizons today and for the future. The GHS is already planning a series of articles on Brown, in the journal and newsletter, with a special edition of the journal focussing on his impact on the international garden scene.

Please contact Steffie or Adam Clarke, Capability Brown Tercentenary Project Manager,  if you have any specific ideas to add to plans for the Brown Tercentenary Celebrations or wish to sponsor an event or trail guide. We have only just begun, watch this space! 2016 is just around the corner…

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith