Ms T writes from Hampton Court. She is designing a garden in the style of that man, no nun, but a notable gardener, Capability Brown and wants to know how he would have felt about Fagus sylvatica ‘purple fountain’ weeping copper beech, or corkscrew willow.
Let us begin with the positives: trees of the habitually droopy sort are greatly to be admired, particularly by water. Horace Walpole, the frequent correspondent, was known for his penchant for the pendant-poetical, and I don’t think his taste will be found reprehensible by anyone who has noticed how the commonest sorts of hornbeam will tend to the gently pendulous when hanging over a pool. It is as though they hoped to take in water through their leaves and wigs, or at least to breathe in a cooler, damper air.
Let us praise also the cork-screw willow for its Gothick moments – the full moon seen through its frightened branches, the raven perched upon a broken limb.
But Ms T, do you not think these trees are trying too hard? To be so purple, to weep so conspicuously, and to twist a plant into a performance.
In brief, I think the great Brown might have regarded these trees, along with many of like kind, as the products of an overzealous nurseryman with a tormented imagination, – might have regarded them I say as diseased or unnatural, and as such as having no place in a garden.
We must always bear in mind that principle of Brown’s which was to present to the eye all that the mind thinks it good to see, and the course of his career, which led him to present it in ever simpler and more direct ways.