So Horace Walpole thought that that great and gracious gardener, the good Capability Brown got his ideas from William Kent and Philip Southcote. ‘Who?’ exclaimed the sociable Mr Honey when I told him. ‘William Kent? – Furniture designer, set painter, associate of Burlington’ ‘Not him, the other one.’
He is not alone I dare say in his ignorance of Southcote, who kept open house at Wooburn Farm in Surrey, and always went a little further towards the ridiculous than I would regard as seemly, living off his wife’s money, so they say, the garden too full of flowers, and her nothing so special by the time he got her. One wonders what Walpole had seen in him that made him so remarkable. Southcote’s was a mixed farm, nothing special in itself but ornamented with walks that ran round the fields. It was part of the fun to watch the animals. I call to mind the Duke of Atholl, who wrote in October 1745 that he wanted walks planted ‘after the manner of Southcott, that is to say the trees not very thick but the ground under them to be full of flowering shrubs and all sorts of flowers both annuall and others.’ I suppose this is the way things looked when Brown worked at Wotton – and he may have taken the same idea to Croome – but I am surprised to find Southcote getting the credit over the equally celebrated William Shenstone of the Leasowes, another ornamented farm, or ferme ornée, contemporary and equally famous. Wooburn may only be distinguished from the Leasowes by the arable land that Southcote incorporated – something Brown did as well.
I would discuss this matter more discursively but have undertaken a sea voyage. They said it was for my health, but it’s a funny kind of health that turns you green and makes the world rock up and down in front of your eyes.