This blog post was guest-written by Nicola Mayer, Exhibition and Events Co-ordinator (Lindley Library)

Esher in Surry the seat of the Rt Hon: Henry Pelham as laid out by M. Kent. Engraving after an original by William Woollett (1735-1785). From Thomas Whately ‘Observations on modern gardening’ (London: West and Hughes, 1801). Opp P.30. © RHS Lindley Collections

Incredible developments in garden design took place during the long 18th century, an era often thought of as dominated by horticultural giant Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. This course will examine the influence of Brown’s style, while also considering the fashion for formal garden design which preceded Brown, the Brown backlash and rise of the picturesque ideal in the latter half of the century. Over the course of five weeks, you will explore the influence of 18th-century scientific developments, discoveries and travelling plant collectors on the designed landscape. Featured gardens range from St James’ Park in London to Claremont Garden in Surrey and to Versailles in France.

This short course, running on Fridays for five consecutive weeks, in the special setting of the RHS Lindley Library, offers the chance to explore the world of 18th-century gardening with Stephen Smith. With nearly 40 years of experience in horticulture and a Masters Degree in Garden History (among other qualifications), Stephen brings enthusiasm and expertise to this course. 

In addition to the taught aspect of the course, each session will include the unique opportunity to see at first-hand relevant original material from the fantastic collection of the RHS Lindley Library. Each week you will be able to study rare books, manuscripts and artworks with expert Library staff on-hand to guide you and answer your questions. Featured texts will include Capability Brown’s Account Book (a digital copy of which can be found on the RHS Libraries’ Collections Online), Humphry Repton’s Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening and Carl Linnaeus’ Hortus Cliffortianus.

A reading list will be provided but this is an informal course with no requirement for homework or further study unless desired.

This course is the ideal follow on from our short course ‘Discovering Victorian Gardens’  but is also suitable for beginners with a focused interest in 18th-century gardening. More details are available on the RHS website. If you would like further information or have any queries about the course please contact us at

Refreshments will be provided during the break.