Historic landscape of Croome

Croome is a classic ‘Capability’ Brown landscape in Worcestershire that offers open space, wildlife, walks and a chance to contemplate Brown’s impact on UK gardens.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown designed the mid-18th century mansion at the heart of Croome and also the parkland for the 6th Earl of Coventry. It was his first commission after leaving Stowe and he is thought to have worked at Croome for around 20 years on-and-off. In total there is 700 acres of parkland for National Trust visitors to explore. And this parkland features everything you would expect of a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape, such as a lake and follies like the rotunda, church and a grotto.

The National Trust owns the house and the surrounding parkland, however the Walled Gardens are privately run and I wrote a separate piece on the restoration project that you can read here. Since buying the landscape park in 1996 the Trust has worked to restore the Brown design and attempt to reinstate trees and shrubs that were part of Croome’s history.

IMG-20170826-WA0004We arrived at Croome on a busy bank holiday weekend. I have to admit to feeling pity for the poor fruit trees as cars were squeezed into every inch of space possible on the orchard next to the visitor centre, with some of the trees showing evidence of previous grazes from vehicles. The visitor centre itself is now located inside a restored Second World War airbase building that was built on the parkland in the 1940s. There is also an RAF museum on-site, but we did not venture in.

My partner Bertie, also a professional gardener and responsible for taking quite a few photos I borrow, pointed out one of Croome’s successes, and it is a fact that rings true with me though I didn’t cross my mind. It is really good that at Croome visitors park some way from the house and then get a great reveal across the parkland after coming through the tree-line. It is a really successful way to showcase the mansion, parkland and neighbouring countryside, rather than at some places where visitors are able to drive right up to the house itself.

The mansion itself is an imposing sight however, as we are both passionate gardeners, we concentrated on seeing the Walled Gardens and the landscape parkland. I admit to being often torn when it comes to ‘Capability’ Brown landscapes, and struggle to find where I sit between the common arguments regarding them. I appreciate the scale, vision and work that creates such a landscape, and its showcasing of the English countryside, however, as is often pointed out by many gardeners (including Bertie and a former boss of mine), a lot of good gardens were destroyed by rich landowners at the time aspiring for a Brown-esque landscape.

I class myself as a developing gardener and my tastes are always evolving too. I used to be all about formality, but now I really appreciate looser plantings and the arts & crafts style. A lot of it is down to my experiences and places I have worked obviously, but also through visiting more and more gardens my taste and likes/dislikes are constantly evolving. I haven’t experienced a lot of landscapes to date, but could definitely appreciate the really impressive specimen trees at Croome as well as lots of wildflower and habitat areas which will undoubtedly attract an abundance of wildlife. The Walled Garden obviously offered a formal area for horticulture as part of the Brown design and that needs to be considered as part of the whole, even though it is now split from the rest of the landscape.

Luckily the sheer size of Croome meant that, even though it was busy with visitors when we visited, it didn’t feel bustling and you could stroll and investigate in peace. It has a high number of temples, follies and statues, including the church, ice house, gatehouse and the rotunda (which must be an iconic Croome picture so had to include it). Built in the 1750’s, the rotunda sits atop a hill and offers views over the parkland and towards the Malvern Hills in the distance.

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Lakes are key to Brown landscapes and it is no different at Croome. However, it is mind-boggling to imagine the sheer nature of hand-digging lakes of such scale.  It is a really peaceful space to walk around and, if lucky, there might be a spare National Trust emblazoned deckchair to relax on. Around the lake there is also a grotto and a couple of ornate bridges. A clever ploy as part of the design is that the water meanders around the house and is made to look like a river, with islands and bridges to deceive, whereby actually it is a lake that merely widens and narrows to create an illusion.

The Grade I listed Temple Greenhouse is now used as a mini tea room for the visitors. Originally used to house exotic plants it was heated by a brick bothy behind it, but now the only heat comes from a tea urn. Around the Greenhouse is the only example of real herbaceous borders around the Croome landscape, but they are not huge and tend to contain lots of Mediterranean plants, presumably because the Greenhouse has a Grecian-style look about it. But, from a horticulturalist stand-point, they looked well-tended too and did feature some impressive specimens.

Around the back of the Greenhouse there is a really well hidden compost toilet that I took the plunge to try. It was my first experience and an interesting one at that. I imagine it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I had no problem with the idea of it and the smell didn’t put me off.

There are an impressive number of specimen trees and shrubs throughout the landscape, as well as a lot of wild flowers and an abundance of wildlife. There are also many miles of paths stretching around the parkland for visitors to enjoy, with the offer also of a shuttle buggy for those who can’t’ manage the walk. Croome has a lot to offer visitors and is capable of appealing to groups looking for different things, such as enjoying the house, investigating the follies, walking the dog around miles of landscape, or just relaxing by the lake.

Croome Court is located near High Green in Worcestershire and open all year, apart from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For more information check out the National Trust website.

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