My dear friend Catherine offered to take me to Stowe, Lancelot (Capability) Brown’s first major garden last month. As most readers will know, he designed his parks with follies, temples, pavilions, bridges and connected them with sculpted woodlands, lawns, lakes, faux rivers, avenues and paths. The result was beautiful views of extensive landscapes, intended to look like some natural arcadia but in fact, completely artificial. But who cares? It’s a contrivance we’re happy to accept.
The best thing about this garden is that Brown’s client, the Viscount Cobham, whose surname was Temple, commissioned James Gibbs and William Kent to build a number of classical pavilions and temples around the garden. There’s a Gothic temple, which you can rent out for an eccentric weekend, a Temple of Ancient Virtue, which we didn’t go into in case we sullied it with our modern ways and a Temple of British Worthies, which we instantly repopulated with famous women from history since the only female amongst Shakespeare, Newton and his fellows was Elizabeth I. But our favourite of the day was the Temple of Friendship – for obvious reasons. I love this picture! A random Asian tourist took it for us. As a treasured memento of the day, it shall remain in my file of best garden visits, ever.