(& HA-HA)

THIS MONTH WE PAY TRIBUTE TO Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown who changed the face of eighteenth century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, a magical world of green.

Capability Brown minterne house dorset


Lancelot Brown, more commonly known as Capability Brown, was an English landscape architect. He is remembered as “the last of the great English 18th century artists to be accorded his due”, and “England’s greatest gardener”


Born: August 30, 1716, Kirkharle

Died: February 6, 1783, London

Spouse: Bridget Brown (m. 1744)

Buried: Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Fenstanton

Children: Lancelot Brown


Capability Brown’s Business, Style & Work

Brown’s style derived from the two practical principles of comfort and elegance. On the one hand, there was a determination that everything should work, and that a landscape should provide for every need of the great house. On the other, his landscapes had to cohere and look elegant.

While his designs have great variety, they also appear seamless owing to his use of the sunk fence or ‘ha-ha’ to confuse the eye into believing that different pieces of parkland, though managed and stocked quite differently, were one. His expansive lakes, at different levels and apparently unconnected, formed a single body of water as if a river through the landscape, that like the parkland itself, ran on indefinitely.

He also practiced architecture, and during the 1750s contributed to several country houses, including Burghley House, Northants. However his architecture played second fiddle to his ‘place-making’.

In 1764 he was appointed to the gardens of Hampton Court, Richmond and St James and he then moved to Wilderness House, Hampton Court.

Brown had suffered from asthma all his life, and his habit of the constant travel, together with his practice of not always charging for work (he would sometimes allow his client to determine the value of what he had done and seems frequently to have submitted plans and surveys without a bill), did affect both his health and finances. He continued to work and travel until his sudden collapse and death on 6th February 1783. He died at his daughter Bridget Holland’s house in London, but was buried at Fenstanton, in Cambridgeshire, the only place he is known to have owned property and where he became Lord of the Manor.

‘Capability’ Brown is best remembered for landscape on an immense scale, constructing not only gardens and parkland, but planting woods and building farms linked by carriage drives, or `ridings’, many miles from the main house. Although his work is continually reassessed, every landscape gardener and landscape architect since, both in Britain and across the developed world, has been influenced in one way or another by Brown. Over two centuries have passed since his death, but such are the enduring qualities of his work that over 150 of the 260 or so landscapes with which he is associated remain worth seeing today.

Minterne & about 300 Years Later!

We’ve discovered from the diaries in the Archives here at Minterne House, that every time Capability Brown came down to Sherborne Castle, Robert Digby would ride over and pick his brains!!

Capability Brown revolutionised the whole of English domestic landscape in the 18th century.

He was called Capability Brown because he used to look at a landscape and say, ‘Ah, it has capabilities!’ You can see the change here at Minterne Gardens. Originally there was just a small stream below the house, with a square bowling green, and four rectangular, either gardens, or paddocks, up to the house. Here, the stream was dammed up to make a series of small lakes and cascades. The square Gardens were swept away, and many trees planted, mostly indigenous varieties, but also cedars and other exotic trees. With its valley, ha-ha, lake, streams & cascades, Minterne Gardens pays its own quiet tribute to Capability Brown on this 300th Anniversary of his birth.


For those who like to gather facts, did you know that the origin of Ha-Ha (a ditch with a wall on its inner side below ground level forming a boundary to a park or garden without interrupting the view) is believed to be early 18th Century; from French, said to be the cry of surprise on suddenly encountering such an obstacle!


Do you have any Capability Brown facts or stories? Let us know in the comments below!



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Images Courtesy of Pauline West, Maureen Panchen, Roger Lane & Carole Drake.

Gardens Open Daily
10am – 6pm    *    1st February to 8th November    *    Admission Price £6.00 (Children under 12 Free)
Season Tickets Available Here

Dogs welcome on leads    *    Parking is FREE for visitors in the car park opposite St Andrews Church    *    Minterne currently offers a selection of cream teas (weather permitting - please phone ahead to confirm)    *    Please note: Unfortunately, Minterne Gardens feature many uneven surfaces and are therefore NOT SUITABLE for wheelchairs    *    Minterne House itself is a private residence and therefore not open to the public without prior consent.