Miss P, a celebrated botanical illustrator, writes to ask whether Brown would have used natives such as Guelder-rose in his designs.
Well the short answer is yes. I remember searching through the Wilderness at Southill Park for the Guelder-rose from which John Byng had cut a ‘strong stem’ for a walking stick, with the help of the gardener Brownell in 1794. In this whimsical pursuit, he had felt himself to be in the character of that great huntsman and gentleman of leisure, the close associate of the Spectator, Mr Will Wimble.
That Guelder tree is alas no more, but one might have more chance at Packington, whence Lord Aylesford selected Guelder–rose to send to his friend Sanderson Miller.
The enthusiasm for Guelder was long-standing, its berries, beautiful foliage and autumn colour compensating, so far as the tax collector Thomas Whately was concerned, for its character: ‘irregular and bushy from the top to the bottom’.
We do not need here to return to the question of Capability Brown’s ability as a plantsman. Instead, what Miss P is really asking I think is how far Brown relied on common native shrubs, in the face of the tide of imports. I would say, arguing from good sense alone, that he relied on them very, very, very, very heavily. That’s four ‘very’s for Guelder and not undeserved: they were cheap, predictable, available and reliable – four words that sound like music on the ear of the landscape architect, even today.