Mrs L. of Ilkley asks what tree would best summon up for the quintennial celebration that is to come in 2216 the quirkiness and quintessential quickness of Capability Brown. I don’t want to promote a competition, but I would put in a vote for the simple and much abused sycamore.
In north Britain and around Brown’s childhood home, sycamore makes a fine tree and was particularly associated with ‘Old Seats’ and gentlemen’s houses by Thomas Hamilton as early as 1735.
So at Brown’s landscapes, one thinks of Aske, where there is a sycamore by the house immediately west of the Cedar lawn; of Aston where one stands between the house and church; of Blenheim where ‘two sycamore-trees were planted’ on the site of the old palace; of Fisherwick, where the position of the house seems to have been determined ‘by an aged Sycamore in the principal front’; of Howsham, Ugbrooke and Weston, with sycamores by the gate; of Needwood Forest of which Francis Mundy wrote:
‘… Leave me to loiter at my door/ Beneath the spreading Sycamore,/ That canopies the sloping lawn.’
To conclude, here is Vita Sackville-West at Knole where ‘two or three fine sycamores, symmetrical and circular as open umbrellas, redeem the severity of the front…’
Mrs S of Grantham tells me that sycamore was used as a symbol of the Whig party as well – now that’s an idea I’d like to hear more about.