Throughout much of the 20th century the public have played only a minor role in the determination of the scope and pattern of landscape change. In the earlier part of the century, professionals and arbiters of taste viewed the public as being incapable of appreciating rural or urban landscape aesthetics. For that powerful élite the rural landscape was seen as possessing indefinable 'spiritual' qualities which demanded protection from undesirable urban influences. While the productivity of the countryside was largely ignored in the years of abundant supplies of cheap overseas food before World War II, the mythical idyll of the rural landscape with its allegedly timeless values and its sense of social order was defended by the professional élites who claimed substantial cultural authority. These viewpoints are documented and then it is considered how the democratization and reconceptualization of landscape have influenced lay landscape aesthetics, attitudes and policy. Drawing on recent evidence from the Welsh LANDMAP initiative, today's public is concerned with many of the issues which engaged the attention of the élite three generations ago. Although the discourse might be the same, its contestation is radically different, being set within a new agenda of inclusivity and involvement. The public today care passionately about their local landscapes and resent the current scale and pace of change, homogenizing development and destroying sense of place. If the wider agenda of sustainability is effectively to be addressed, it is crucial that those in authority engage more proactively with the public regarding landscape planning matters as the historical and contemporary top-down models need more sensitive realignment and synergy with deliberative and inclusionary approaches.