Flower power brings new life to Chatsworth’s garden
More than 50,000 flowering perennials, shrubs and trees are going into the ground at Chatsworth, ready to bring a riot of colour and new growth to the world famous 105 acre garden when it reopens later in the season.
Closed to visitors until further notice during the coronavirus pandemic, the garden team are engaged in a two-month-long planting programme in the Rock Garden as well as the 15 acre former wilderness now known as Arcadia. Thousands of new plants are filling the four recently created open glades between the Cascade and the Grotto Pond to the south.
Working to a plan by the garden designer Tom Stuart Smith and supported by the Gucci fashion house, the 15 acres of the Arcadia area have been cleared and hundreds of new trees planted. It includes the creation of new, meadow-like glades connected by woodland walks and features a major new, stone sculpture installation called ‘Natural Course’ built by the artist Laura Ellen Bacon.
At Chatsworth, the garden usually has a full time team of 25 supported by around 75 volunteers working under Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter, but numbers have been reduced during the coronavirus pandemic. Working in different areas and observing strict social distancing and hygiene rules, a core team of ten has, however, received helping hands from the Devonshire family with both the Duke and Duchess and their daughter-in-law Lady Burlington joining in.
“The Duke has been in every day cutting tulips to give to staff, and he and the Duchess have helped with planting and watering. They appreciate everything, their feedback has been so important,” says Steve Porter.
The new, wet glade in the Arcadia area, to be known as the Bog Garden, will gain more than 34,000 new plants and bulbs including 8000 Camassia grown onsite in Chatsworth’s own nursery. Drifts of more than 2000 Candelabra Primula in six different varieties are being planted as well as Iris, Rodgersia, Gunnera, swamp cypress (Taxodium), royal ferns and other plants able to thrive in damp conditions such as pond edges, stream banks or damp shady borders.
Work is also continuing along the Trout Stream. Planting will feature some 7000 additional plants familiar to the woodland floor, such as Tiarella and Helleborus. Redevelopment of the Trout Stream is intimately connected to Dan Pearson’s creation of Chatsworth’s ‘Best in Show’ garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015, which provided Dan with the conceptual inspiration for the new planting and seating.
In the Rock Garden, Irises will be the standout flower among more than 12,000 new plants, which will also see many more grasses, and perennials consistent with the initial planting in this area, which took place in 2019.
This latest planting is part of a total of more than 300,000 new plants and bulbs included in the transformation of a 25-acre section of Chatsworth’s historic garden. One of Britain’s largest private garden transformations, it includes a remodelled Rock Garden, new borders north and south of the Maze, a revamping of the Ravine, as well as the Trout Stream and associated Jack Pond, and the new Arcadia glades.
Garden designers Tom Stuart Smith and Dan Pearson are working alongside Chatsworth’s Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter, and his team to add major new layers to the garden at Chatsworth. The foundations of Chatsworth’s present garden and park were laid out by William Kent and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the 18th century and Joseph Paxton in the 19th century.
The 105-acre garden is the product of nearly 500 years of careful cultivation. Although some points of interest have been replaced to make way for new fashions, the garden retains many early features, including the Canal Pond, Cascade and Duke’s Greenhouse. The famous waterworks include the 300-year-old Cascade, the Willow Tree Fountain and the impressive, gravity-fed Emperor Fountain, which reaches heights of up to 90m.
Timeline & principal changes
Rockery | Tom Stuart-Smith | early 2018 to 2021. Principal features: Improved access and rock interest plus massed perennials plantings to provide summer long interest.
One of the earliest and largest rock gardens in the world and designed and described by Joseph Paxton as an “imitation of the natural features of a wild and rugged scene… All the vegetation… should be subordinate to it.”
Tom Stuart Smith: “The Rockery occupies an area of three acres. The entrance from the Maze is impressive; passing under Paxton’s Conservatory Arch and then through a gully planted with a great swathe of Hostas. The two entrances from the direction of the house are weak by comparison, the rockwork giving less sense of dramatic arrival and the planting being unrelated to any overriding character that the garden as a whole might have.
“Improvements to these two entrances will redefine the rock garden as a fantasy domain, full of variety, spontaneous naturalness and picturesque diversion; quite separate from the rest of the garden where openness, smoothness, and settled grandeur prevail.
“The proposed planting is more comprehensive, naturalistic and ecologically inspired, using 10-20 dominant species through the whole area to provide a distinct botanical and visual character. Hundreds of other sub dominant or occasional species are then woven into the tapestry. The areas of planting will be much more extensive than they previously were, largely eliminating several small areas of worn grass.”
Arcadia | Tom Stuart-Smith | mid 2018 to 2021 (key period for planting will be late 2019 through 2020)
Arcadia lies at the heart of the garden and at 15 acres in size; it might seem anomalous that it has never been developed.
The principal features are made up of views out across the Park or routes to other parts of the garden that surround it. These include the Rockery and Maze to the west, the Trout Stream to the east, and the Grotto Pond to the south while the Cascade is situated to the north.
In February 2019, 150 large trees and shrubs were planted; in September 2019 and into spring 2020, Chatsworth will be planting two acres with herbaceous perennials, equating to circa 80,000 plants. Each of the planting glades will have an individual character determined by the plant content. The woodland glades, or walks, will link the planting glades together. They will have a consistent planting throughout of shade tolerant species, designed to enhance these spaces.
Maze borders | Tom Stuart-Smith | late 2018 and planted early 2019. Principal features include additional Yew topiary to complement the Maze and new, more traditional herbaceous planting.
The borders in this area are being subdivided to make them more accessible with longer season planting. Stone pillars and large Yew trees will be installed and topiaried. Herbaceous planting took place during April 2019.
Trout Steam and Jack Pond – Dan Pearson, from late 2015 and continuing into 2020. (Key period of landscaping at Jack Pond starting late 2019/early 2020)
Redevelopment of the Trout Stream is intimately connected to Dan Pearson’s creation of Laurent Perrier and Chatsworth’s ‘Best in Show’ garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015, which provided the conceptual inspiration for new planting and seating along the Trout Stream, which ends at the Jack Pond.
Dan Pearson’s latest contribution to make best use of this area will be to redesign the Jack Pond to include a new Corten Steel Pavilion. The Jack Pond is currently underused as it no longer holds water and is quite hidden by vegetation. The Pavilion will be installed with a curved bench to encourage contemplation around a newly formed elliptical pond, in what will remain a secluded area. Planting will aim for a calming effect.