"Capability” Brown (1715-1783) was so called because of his custom of informing his clients of the “capability” for design change of their landscapes. He was the true genius of the movement away from the very ordered landscape design of the early 18th century to the more seemingly natural landscape of the later part of the century. His work for the 4th Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace (1764-74) at a cost of some ?25,000 is probably his most famous design. Certainly, today’s visitor can very readily enjoy the features which epitomise his work.
“Capability” Brown is viewed by some as a genius and others as a vandal. For those who admire the symmetry and order of the formal gardens created by Henry Wise at the building of the Palace in 1705, then Brown was a vandal. He removed the magnificent parterre to the south of the Palace and laid the area to lawn. For those who walk into the Park and admire the lake and its surrounding scenery Brown was a genius.
When Brown arrived at Blenheim Palace the view to the north of the Palace was taken up with a steep gorge, full of brambles marsh and a stream. Brown transformed this. He wished to create a landscape that suggested natural shapes and harmony untouched by human kind but in fact his landscapes were developed with precise attention to detail. He believed that water stirred the emotions so using a huge labour force the area for the lake was dug, shaped and lined with clay. The Glymme was dammed and over a year the lake came into being. Brown planted clumps of trees around the lake and park. This was to create ever changing views for the Duke and visitors as they “took the air”.
To give a sense of scale and privacy Brown planted a belt of trees around the perimeter of the Park. It was 50 meters wide but gave the appearance of a forest that went on forever. The Cascade Brown designed is quite spectacular but appears long after the visitor can hear it. Brown created here a landscape that appealed to all the senses. The paths are laid out and the trees planted so that the visitor is constantly surprised by a new vista unfolding as they walk.
The particular glory of Brown’s design is the lake (and its cascade) which places Vanbrugh’s earlier bridge in a comfortable harmony with its surroundings. The wonderful curves of its banks contrast tellingly with the straight lines of Henry Wise’s tree plantings.
It is clear to see why Blenheim Palace deserves its World Heritage status. The splendour and tranquillity of the “Capability” Brown landscaped parkland and the Formal Gardens are unrivalled in Britain. From the Water Terraces, the Rose Garden and the Grand Cascade to the magnificent lake, fringed by majestic oaks and maples, there is beauty to be found in all seasons. Visit the Secret Garden with its winding paths, streams and water features, or cross Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge to walk up to the Column of Victory.
Blenheim Palace is set in 2,100 acres of spectacular parkland in the heart of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds and is only eight miles from Oxford. In addition to the unique Palace and stunning Oxfordshire gardens, a full programme of special events runs throughout the year.
Learn more on our annual pass which allows you to enjoy a year of fantastic days out in Oxfordshire at Britain's Greatest Palace for the price of a single day ticket.