The Advisor has received a number of enquiries about Capability Brown’s use of exotics. Mrs D. has written from Hampshire to ask if Brown bought the Black Locust or Robinia pseudoacacia. Well. Cobbett thought it would be the future of England’s forests.
He was mistaken, it does not have the strength. However it does crop up on many of Brown’s landscapes and where it survives it seems invariably to have been grown as a shrub, on a short coppicing rotation, to bring the fragrant flowers to nose level.
Similarly Mrs M has written from Cheshire about an odd oak that is growing at Doddington Hall. She asks if it could be Brown’s, and I don’t see why not – there are large exotic oaks at several of Brown’s landscapes: the Turkey oak around the folly at Wimpole, the Downy oak at Ickworth, and the various hybrids of Fulham and Luccombe oak and the Chestnut-leaved oak at Woodchester. It may be that there was a particular interest in experimenting with oak for its patriotic association and use in ship-building. Equally it may be that oak is the only exotic to have survived.
A first port of call for anyone wishing to explore Brown’s use of exotics might be Loudon’s Arboretum et fruticetum Britannicum, which records where the largest recorded trees in each species were then growing. Sometimes, as with Willow-leaved oak, there is a good correlation with Brown’s landscapes. It may be that in these cases Brown took an interest in using exotics. Equally it might be the case that land-owners who had enough money to employ Brown might also want to satisfy a penchant for the exotic.
I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.