As impressive as the gardens and park at Blenheim were, the ones at Stowe (which Capability Brown did early in his career) blew me away. I loved the vastness of the views, which were designed to give the impression of going on forever without interruption (kind of like infinity pools today).
And I loved how the paths guided you from those infinite vistas to intimate wooded paths with strategically places openings that framed the house at attractive angles . . .
. . . or which guided your eye to decorative “eye-catchers” in the distance. The eye-catcher might be a rustic hermitage . . .
. . . a palladian covered bridge . . .
. . . or a delicate arch in the Doric style . . .
The way the views constantly changed, and delight that came with discovering some new eye-catcher or vista, made this one of the most pleasurable garden experiences I have ever had. There wasn’t a single flower, but the genius of the design behind it, and the way that it engaged through physical activity, aesthetic pleasure, and intellectual triggers (most of the eye-catchers had some sort of mythological or allegorical significance designed to inspire philosophy and reflection) made it such a rich experience.
On the way out I passed this meadow, which is a great example of the sleight of hand that Brown used in designing his parks. The trees look completely random from this view, but when seen from a different angle (as in the first photo above) they create a symmetrical frame for the wide meadow and distant eye-catcher. The sheep of course are picturesque from a distance but they would destroy the undulating waves of long grass and wildflowers, and fences would interrupt the flow, so Brown used ha-has — or sunken ditches with one-sided walls that were invisible from the viewpoint — to keep the sheep where they were wanted without breaking the lines. The earth-removal required to construct ha-has was of course intensive, making them extremely expensive in the age before machines, but the effect is really lovely.