When I asked Mr Honey what he thought of Cypresses, he replied ‘Not much’ and left off talking. I think the master, Capability Brown, bold but never fool-hardy, may have used Lombardy Poplar instead to give an Italianate Claudean air to the view to Woodstock when he planted the island on the Queen Pool at Blenheim.
The Poplar would have been more reliable in the English climate. Cypress has been tried and has failed – o so very often – the attempt was mocked by the poet William Mason and cypress symbolised everything that was untrustworthy and out of place about being foreign.
Here is Horace Walpole after a bad winter:
‘Half the cypresses have been bewitched and turned into brooms…. I am Goth enough to choose now and then to believe in prognostics, and I hope this destruction imports that though foreigners should take root here, they cannot last in this climate’;
and Uvedale Price, the opposition to Walpole and his Brownian style of landscaping, was to echo his sentiment:
‘What Ariosto says of a grove of cypresses, has always struck me in looking at made places,
‘che parean d’una siempa tutte impresse.’
For Price cypresses were ‘completely out of harmony with the landscape around them.’ In short although his contemporary the horticulturist Thomas Hale was good enough to mention the cypress in his A Compleat Book of Husbandry of 1756, there is no evidence that the species took up any great space on the vegetable palette of the master, Capability Brown.