Monsieur B of Orléans has touched again on the subject of old trees, and whether Capability Brown saved them or even modified his work to take account of them. Well, well, well. The questions are good, and the short answers are yes and yes, but then again, simple decency bids me add, also no and no.
The ‘yes and yes’ sounds more constructive, so we shall take that first: we have numerous plans such as those made by the Ordnance Survey 100 years after Brown’s death which show hedgerow trees retained in the outer parkland and still standing in the rows of the hedges which he removed. These were retained to give an instant air of antiquity to a newly altered landscape, but did not necessarily influence the design. Elsewhere one certainly finds ancient trees retained close to the house (at Langley, Bucks.; Blenheim; and Heveningham to take three examples from different decades of his career), and at these the pleasure grounds and home parkland were designed to accommodate the trees.
So far, so good; however it is also clear that Brown felled many old trees, particularly if they were pollards or were sick in any way, and he could be merciless with trees standing in his principal vistas – hence the no and no.
All this honest yay and rustic courtesy nay however leaves me gasping for an English compromise, so I would also draw to your attention his skill at moving large trees – You may look for this in the west avenue at Burton Constable, but the most impressive example I have seen is in the bottom corner of the park at Wrotham, where there are three pollard Oaks. Clearly they were old hedgerow trees, for the hedge bank survives and two of them are growing on it, but the third is some 5 metres from the bank. I suspect that this tree was saved to give life and a sense of antiquity to the setting of Isaac Ware’s recently built house, but was moved to give a spontaneous air to the landscape.