The train from London Stansted Airport to Cambridge passes the 17th century country house of Audley End, at one time a palace of King Charles II. Today the house is open to the public and in summer there are picnics and concerts in the beautiful gardens, which were designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the dominant figure in English landscape gardening, and a forerunner of ELT best practice, as we shall see.
Brown worked on a grand scale, building landscapes of lakes and wide lawns with woods and lines of trees in the distance. His work can still be seen in some of England’s best-known estates including Warwick Castle, Blenheim Palace, and Longleat in Wiltshire. (click here for more information).
Brown is relevant to us as he was a master of needs analysis. The nickname “Capability” refers not to the talents of the man but to his methods. He would begin with a careful study of the original landscape and plan his gardens according to the “capability” of each place to look beautiful. Just as we ask ourselves “What do we need to know about our students?” he would look at slopes and hills, rivers and streams, the position of the house and build around them a garden that was a pleasure to walk in from all directions.
Brown also believed in practical designs that were easy to maintain and renew. His wide grasslands could be used for grazing sheep and deer; wooded areas were set out in horizontal strips that could be cut down and replanted without changing the overall look; the lakes and dams he made controlled the flooding of the surrounding land so it could be used all year round. We could call him a pioneer of learner autonomy – for trees and grass.
There’s a famous quote from Brown that is also relevant to us in which he compared the structure of a garden to the structure of a sentence: “there I make a comma, and there, where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon; at another part, where an interruption is desirable to break the view, a parenthesis; now a full stop, and then I begin another subject”. If a gardener can think like that about the structure of his work then we, who teach punctuation, can visualise the stages of our lessons and create clear marking points between them.
And finally for a fresh approach to punctuation try the ancient martial art of Pung Chu.