Before & After: Humphry Repton

Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via

I love sharing before and after shots.  They are so effective at capturing the sum total of a whole lot of work and subsequently are great inspiration.   I never really considered whether or not the whole concept and tool was being used before photography.  If I thought about it, I would have guessed not.  But British landscape designer Humphry Repton used the concept with his clients back in the late 1700’s.   Is it possible he was the first designer to use the before and after graphic device?   I have no idea….but I am absolutely fascinated to pour over the drawings he created as part of his client presentations.

Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via

These drawings were created as part of each clients ‘red-book’ which was a red leather-bound book that he created for each project.  All the drawings needed for the project was in the book and it typically included a sketch (or piece of art) of the existing conditions as well as the proposed final outcome.  
Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via

Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via


Not only that, but if you look closely you can see where he cut tabs into the drawings so that the new idea or concept could be folded back right on the page.  (look closely at the two images above where you can see the outlines of the lift off tabs).   I have seen some amazing artistry come from designer when they are making idea presentations….but this is perhaps the most amazing.  Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via


It also explains a few things.  When in the English countryside, I have so many times marveled at how perfect it all seems.  Rivers run in big beautiful arcs and the hills roll elegantly into each other with stately trees dotted around perfectly.   Now I wonder if perhaps Mr. Repton had his hands all over the country….or at least all the Repton wannabes continued the job after his death.   
Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via

The before scenes are by no means hideous like urban brownfield sites that are so fun to see transformed into lush gardens.  But they aren’t quite as perfect as I have come to expect from England.  It makes me feel better to remind myself that these gardens and views have been manipulated for centuries and that there might not be a piece of dirt in the whole country that hasn’t been altered by some decent level of skilled gardener.  Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via www.studioblog.comIf you want to check out more of the contents of Humphry’s red books, you can take a virtual tour on The Morgan Museum’s website where two complete red books are presented. 
Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via

I also find Repton’s wikipedia page to be quite an interesting read.  They spend a good deal of effort contrasting Repton (who had no Horticultural skills but lots of talent and was a great sketch artist) to his predecessor Capability Brown.   It is interesting that Repton didn’t ever execute his designs (leaving that to the client to arrange separately) where as brown did….Repton subsequently did not become wealthy as brown did.  (so the message is to be a contractor, because you make more money?!? Feel free to discuss….)

Humphrey Repton Garden Designer before and after drawings via

I also find it really interesting that Repton was known for borrowing.  For example, he would alter the landscape so that a church steeple in the distance would be part of the pastoral scene or some one else’s trees could help to frame the picturesque view.

Oh– and check this out — his business card…humphrey repton's business card via… I may need to take some inspiration from that….

images: The Morgan 

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.


  1. amy on May 9, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I loved looking at some of these books at the Houghton Library last time I was there! 300 years later, they are still a good idea for presenting landscape ideas.

  2. Nigel Boldero on May 10, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Nice articvle! Here’s a link to one of mine on a visit to Sheringham Park, Norfolk, one of Reprton’s finest landscapes! 🙂

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