I have received a note from Mr H. of Bromsgrove, a man whose opinions I greatly admire. Mr H. has read my notes on Croome, and having recently visited himself, he asks for my comments on the thorn hedges that have been planted by the National Trust round the new clumps there. He regards them as unnatural and hence x’ro-rates them in a landscape by Capability Brown.
Well, we have the evidence that Arthur Young provided for Croome, written two years after Brown`s death: ‘the fences were curiously perfect; white thorn sets; the ditches levelled off … It is very pleasing, the plantations are scattered with great taste; the hedges are clipt, and in perfect order. This circumstance, hurtful as it is to a merely natural scene, heightens the features of a well cultivated farm.’
The discomfort felt by Mr H is genuine enough and needs remedy. One solution might lie in the proposition that Brown was essentially making farms, rather than parks or natural scenery, but in so doing he so completely transformed our ideas of what nature looks like, that some of his efforts have been rejected as his work because they look unnatural – in this case thorn hedges (the most effective protection against stock). We have consistently chosen to misread his work for the last 200 years or so. The offence is reparable.
To Croome we should add Young’s accounts of Wakefield Lodge and Wallington, and John Byng’s of Coombe Abbey, together with Brown’s own recommendations for quicks at Burton Constable and Tottenham. Sherborne is a further example and, since they were executed in the same Brownian style, one might add John Parnell’s notes on the hedges at Hagley and Stourhead. However unnatural the impression they give, we must regard clumps and plantations surrounded by neatly clipped thorn hedges as thoroughly Brownian.