Rediscovering Capability’s “lost landscape” in Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent first hit the horticultural headlines thirty years ago, by hosting the 1986 National Garden Festival.

Now, it is set to take a leading role in one of the most important horticultural celebrations of recent times: the tercentenary of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, in 2016.

The Trentham Estate – a leading estate in 18th century Britain, and named byCountryfile magazine as the UK’s “Garden of the Year” in 2015 – became one of Brown’s most celebrated successes, and is now currently involved in one of the biggest parkland projects in Britain, which is aimed squarely at rediscovering Capability’s lost landscape and enhancing it with breath taking contemporary planting on a truly vast scale.

Brown (1716-1783) was known as the ‘father of landscape architecture’, and worked on over 260 sites across England and Wales during the mid-18th Century.  His landscapes are naturalistic, featuring curving lines, flowing lakes and picture perfect viewpoints all carefully crafted to appear in the landscape for the enjoyment of people exploring the grounds.

Brown worked on the landscape at Trentham on three occasions between 1759 and 1780.  Much of his work here involved the expansion of the one-mile long Trentham Lake; the re-modelling of the surrounding parkland and Trentham Hall; and the creation of two lodges, which now stand at the entrance to the popular Trentham Monkey Forest attraction.

“For us, Brown’s Tercentenary in 2016 will be a celebration of what we’ll have already revealed of ‘the genius of Capability Brown’ – alongside many of the other great designers that have helped shape Trentham’s historic landscape over the past 300 years.  The newly revealed parkland will also allow us to re-introduce grazing of rare breed cattle, typical of Brownian landscapes,” explains the Head of Gardens and Estate at Trentham, Michael Walker.

Work to remove some of the ‘inappropriate’ woodland planting which has taken place over the last century or two has revealed a number of Brownian trees, as well as significant specimen trees such as an Umbrella Pine, a clump of Lime, and a number of Victorian plantings including the Red Woods and Jeffries Pine.

The ongoing project, which is explained to Trentham’s current-day visitors through a series of interpretation panels and guided tours, also includes work to better identify the line of a former Ha-ha (a way to prevent grazing livestock from entering the gardens without obstructing the views), a Georgian triple tunnel boat house, and the location of the Georgian Ice House.

Extensive, and contemporary, meadow plantings by Nigel Dunnett – of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park fame – meanwhile, are now helping to transform the west woodland, around the lake; as are some recently installed giant steel dandelion sculptures.

The Trentham Estate re-opened to the public eleven years ago, and has won one of Europe’s top awards for its restoration work.  Best known for its historic Italian Gardens, and for Piet Oudolf’s Rivers Of Grass, Trentham is the fifth most visited “paid-for” gardens attraction in the UK.  For further details, visit.

While Trentham has been named in VisitEngland’s Ten of the Best Gardens for Groups for its 2016 Year of the Garden campaign, Biddulph Grange Garden – another Stoke-on-Trent garden – has been included in the Top Twenty Best Gardens listing.

Another of the leading gardens for visitors to enjoy on a visit to Stoke-on-Trent is the Dorothy Clive Garden, which is introducing a new Winter Garden for visitors in 2016.

For a full list of all garden attractions in the city, visit