Mrs C has written from an address close to the bed of the Solent. Her envelope is a little damp and smeared, but she assures me that hers is a marine villa, being only submarine on the highest of tides.
Kitchen gardens are of the keenest interest to her therefore, as a well-engineered design might double as a bulwark against sea and wind.
Look then at those Knyff and Kip aerial perspectives: early 18th century kitchens could be very ornamental and in easy reach of the drawing room, are they not worthy Mrs C’s attention? and what place then have kitchen gardens in the work of Capability Brown 50 years later? Let us consider the question. Brown was known to have trained in the kitchen garden at Kirkharle, where the weather can also be fierce – there was one year, while I was there, which had only three weeks, from mid-August to the first week in September, that were free of frost – and we were unprepared – no umbrella, no underground bothy, nothing to go under at all.
Kitchen gardens make up the great bulk of Brown’s architecture, and it is hard to imagine a site where he was employed and where his experience and expertise in kitchen gardening would not have been called upon.
Let us be bold, Mrs C, the kitchen garden should be the high point of any garden visit, the kitchen garden is the most expensive part of a landscape, both to build and to run. The cost of the walls alone horrified Dr Johnson (‘when will you get the value of two hundred pounds of walls in your climate?’). Even so he may have preferred it to discussion of prospects and views. ‘That was the best garden … which produced most roots and fruits.’ He could not see what a landscape could do for the spirit that a vegetable bed could not do better. Better than a tour behind the scenes at a theatre, it showed how much the spirit of order and discipline underlies the presentation of Brown’s landscapes.