Everybody loves variety, whether French: ‘The finest gardens are those which are the most varied’ [Diderot]; Chinese: ‘Each of these Valleys is diversify`d from all the rest, both by their manner of laying out the Ground, and in the Structure and disposition of its Buildings.’ [Joseph Spence]; or English: ‘Mr Pope used to say that all the beauties of gardening might be comprehended in one word, variety.’
But variety is just what d’Haussez and Payne Knight thought that Capability Brown, ever enigmatic, failed to provide in his landscapes, and it seems to me that Brown saw a reciprocal relationship between variety on the one hand and grandeur on the other – the more variety, the less grandeur. All the same there is variety. Here are three examples.
1 Big chunks of Burghley and Blenheim retain their network of formal avenues.
2 Brown admired Professor Mainwearing’s Rectory at Church Stretton where ‘the whole was laid out to great advantage’, although Dr Hurd, despite his enthusiasm for gothic, thought that it ‘tasted too much of the savage.’ There is plenty of evidence that Brown took as much pleasure in rough ground as he did in smooth.
3 Youngsbury is one among many landscapes where a sunk fence bounds the parkland, so allowing it to fade imperceptibly into the varied and changing fabric of the countryside around.
A critic of Appuldurcombe makes the point in spite of himself. Having dismissed the parkland in conventional terms: ‘the house stands like a mushroom on the open lawn without any accompanyment or a comfort in sight …’, he reaches Steephill, at the top of the park, looks down at the house, and continues, as though the setting of the landscape had nothing to do with Brown: ‘The view … is very fine. The brow on which Cooks Castle stands makes an handsome appearance on the right, & the scattered farms fill up the bottom of the valley through which a pretty streamlet runs. The Road winds round the park & is varied with woods & farm houses.’
Enough said I think.