Green and Blue
A summer’s afternoon. Lazing with a favourite book(early Michael Chabon since you ask) in the long grass on the crest of a gentle hill. Behind the Georgian church which commemorates many generations of the noble Coventry family. To the left the grand Palladian mansion. But in front this green and pleasant land rolls towards a river, a Chinese bridge and delightfully placed mature trees. All framed by graceful hills, rounded and slightly blue in complexion. It is a dream.
In fact it is Croome Park in Worcestershire, Capability Brown’s first major commission. (see link)The marsh was drained, the village moved, a new house built, the follies planned, the trees planted to make this English idyll come alive. Lancelot Brown got his name because he always told his clients what the”capabilities” of their estates would be. The fifth son of a successful land agent by his early twenties he was head gardener at Stowe and from there his career went up a few gears. He got the Croome job when he was 36 and by his death in 1783,aged 67, he had created 170 estates, was earning in today’s money around £1m a year, had his own estate and left £5m. He charged £70k a pop for a make over.
His ultra natural look made bitchy Horace Walpole accuse him of being “Lady Nature’s second husband”,(this was before gay marriage!)others would write that they hoped to get to heaven before Brown had changed the place to his ultra Arcadian taste. Whatever, his view of rolling parkland, manicured clumps of trees, ornamental lakes, follies and animals grazing contentedly is the English view of a green and pleasant land.
Nowhere more than at Croome. For those hills in the background are the Malvern Hills.
Houseman famously wrote of them in the Shropshire Lad” Into my heart an air that kills/From yon far country blows:/What are those blue remembered hills?/What spires,what farms are those.” This view across the valley which I so innocently enjoyed is the dream ten thousand subalterns carried as they suffered the nightmare and death on the Western Front 1914-18.
As I plunged deeper into this reverie, a rose lipped maiden, my child bride appeared, gently chiding and blocking out the sun. It was time for a cup of tea.