In Capability Brown’s footsteps at Corsham Court

Corsham Court as seen from the rear. © Karen Andrews

Many visitors go to Corsham Court in Wiltshire to see the Methuen art collection. However, the focus of my visit was on the gardens and parkland. For Corsham Court benefited from the designs of 3 famous figures: Capability Brown (c. 1715–16 to 1783), Humphry Repton (1752-1818) and John Nash (1752-1835). A number of their contributions have survived, although as tastes changed some features were modified or replaced.

The Approach

The house dates back to Elizabethan times. As you walk up the grand drive, you can see the traditional E-shape. I noticed a huge Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba, to my left. Unfortunately, the Cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani, planted under Capability Brown that should have been to my left, was no more. Some interesting cloud hedging could be seen from the driveway in a private area of the house’s grounds. I noticed Magnolia grandiflora and Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans, growing against the front of the house.

The front of Corsham Court is in the traditional E-shape of Elizabethan homes. The house dates back to 1582. © Karen Andrews

Autumn Colours

The guides in the house were friendly and helpful. They pointed me in the right direction and ensured that I would seek out all the notable features. Laden with a numbered tree map of the gardens, I headed towards the formal gardens first. On the way, I noticed the Horse Chestnuts were already taking on their autumnal colours, a crab tree laden with ripening fruit and a resident peacock.

Formal Gardens

The formal gardens look fairly similar to how they would have looked in the time of the first Lady Methuen and her German Head Gardener Wachter (around the 1830s). In places, unruly box hedging narrowed the path.

Floriferous Bush Fuchsia on the right of the path. © Karen Andrews
Striking Pineapple Lilies, Eucomis, with Verbena bonariensis and Dahlias in the formal garden.
© Karen Andrews

Lily Pond Garden

A path lined with Hornbeams, Carpinus betulus, led me through to the Victorian Lily Pond Garden. The sunken, round Lily pond contained a modest fountain but unfortunately no lilies. The warm sunlight bounced off the red brick wall and lit up the planting in the borders. This section of the garden was dominated by a magnificent Indian Bean tree, Catalpa bignoniodes.

A magnificent Indian Bean tree, Catalpa bignonioides, with the Lily Pond behind. © Karen Andrews

My walk then took me towards the more naturalistic settings, recognisable as the handiwork of the great landscape architects. I came across a ha-ha and a dramatic, tree-lined vista.

An obviously landscaped vista of trees with ha-ha in the foreground. A ha-ha permits uninterrupted views without the encroachment of livestock into the garden. © Karen Andrews
An angled shot shows the artificial construction of the garden’s ha-ha. © Karen Andrews
Corsham Court’s Bath House is the sole surviving structure originally designed by Capability Brown. It was both picturesque and practical, as intended for invigorating early morning dips. Nash added to Brown’s Bath House to make it look more Gothic in style between 1797 and 1802. © Karen Andrews

Another garden survivor from Capability Brown’s original planting of 1760 is said to be the monumental Oriental Plane, Platanus orientalis. Where branches touched the ground, they ended up rooting in the soil. The tree now sprawls over the full area of a football pitch without any supports. Its sprawling growth has earned it renown as the most spreading tree in the United Kingdom and recognition as one of the largest specimens in Europe.

The Oriental Plane, Platanus orientalis, at Corsham Court has rooted several times from branches on the ground and now covers the distance of a football pitch. It is claimed that it was planted in 1760 under Capability Brown’s close eye. © Karen Andrews
Oriental Plane, Platanus orientalis, leaf and fruit. © Karen Andrews

The leaf of the Oriental Plane, Platanus orientalis, is more deeply lobed than that of the more familiar London Plane, Platanus x hispanica. The fruit is similar in appearance, but smaller.

© Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading


Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

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