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Tuesday, 28 September 2021

A day of visiting Chatsworth House Gardens , Derbyshire

Why you should visit or revisit Chatsworth House 

As I drove down into the valley past the sheep grazing in the parkland, I caught sight of  Chatsworth. Built of local limestone, honeyed in the September sunshine, with gold tips on the roof glistening, I felt a shiver of excitement. 

I was here to see the biggest garden transformation of Chatsworth for 200 years designed and created by three well known and respected landscape architects and garden designers. 

Dan Pearson, Tom Stuart Smith and James Hitchmough have all worked with  Steve Porter who is Head of Gardens and Landscape at Chatsworth to create an area of 15 acres known as Arcadia, and carry our major changes to a further 10 acres in the rock garden and elsewhere.

First though, a quick visit to the kitchen garden, where fruit, flowers and vegetables are grown. for the house, the cafes and for wedding events.  

As well as being decorative with lovely views, I liked the informative and decorative signage.

From the kitchen garden, you walk, higher to where the old trout stream has been remodelled by Dan Pearson. based on his Chelsea Flower Show design of 2015.

 You follow the stream as it snakes half a mile from herbaceous borders into grass. It's shady, welcome on a hot afternoon as you walk into Arcadia.

Arcadia , a new garden at Chatsworth House

 It's based high on the ridge behind the main house, there was a wilderness that had never been gardened. 200 trees were felled to create light and space, and the area is divided into four glades.

In one there's an impressive sculpture by Laura Ellen Bacon. I've not heard of her before but I do like this "Natural Course" and the way the 100 tons of stone connects so well with the landscape.

The meadow glades delight in shades of dusky pink, cream, white and blue as you wind your way through the pathways. There are huge drifts of perennials, and in the wet glade, over 8,000 camassia, ferns and persicaria have been planted.

your senses are heightened too in this special place.  Birdsong seems louder and scents stronger .....with major plantings of daphne and actea "Pritchard's Giant".which I have decided is a new favourite.

 Pretty arches of white glisten and its heady scent take my breath away.

A quick chat with Tom Stuart Smith

I speak to Tom Stuart Smith who has overseen this project, adores this plant too..., using 50 of them at a time throughout both Arcadia and the rock garden.

More walking through Arcadia, and you enter an area that was cleared of beeches oaks and limes to create a wonderful moment, of seeing how this garden connects with the rest of the formal gardens. There in front of you, newly planted bulbs and perennials line the steps leading you down ....but your eyes are caught by the majestic maze, with green parkland beyond.

Stepping downwards, Tom Stuart Smith leads us to the three-acre Rock Garden which has also been remodelled with the introduction of new paths and heavier planting of perennials than before, some echoing those up on the ridge.

Now, this is one of the earliest and largest rock gardens in the world, designed by none other than Joseph Paxton. So how does it feel to be asked to redesign some areas? Tom smiles and agrees it's a challenge...but you can see by the smile in his eyes and his love of the gardens here, he's happy with what has changed here over the last three years.

Meanwhile, the more formal gardens, designed by gardening greats such as Capability Brown and Joseph Paxton are waiting to be explored. 

The Maze itself and the newly planted entrance are on the foundations of the Great Conservatory designed by Paxton. It took 4 years to build and was the largest glasshouse in the country in 1840 - an elaborate and stunning place to grow plants and to visit. 

According to Steve Porter, the Head of Gardens and Landscape though, after the First World War, it became a huge extravagance and the 9th Duke of Devonshire decided to demolish it. It was blown up, and apparently, it took several attempts to do so. Steve says that even now, his team are still digging up pieces of glass. 

By now, it was time to walk back to the Stables near the House.

 Families were still sitting by the water, entranced by the sight of the Emperor fountain shooting water up to 90 metres high, but it was nearly closing time.

I've spent the last week constantly thinking about my visit to Chatsworth House and the hugely ambitious garden transformation commissioned by the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. They wanted an exciting contemporary and sustainable garden.

It takes a leap of faith to radically remodel, and institute change on such an expensive and expansive scale in a much loved and admired garden.

Supported by Gucci, after three years of hard work by the designers, the gardeners and a team of volunteers, and even mucking in themselves to help during the Pandemic, the Duke and Duchess's vision  "Arcadia", a pastoral paradise, in harmony with nature has been realised.

Accessibility information for the Gardens at Chatsworth House

You can download an access map from the Chatsworth House website.

There is free admission for carers (don't book a ticket for one)

A 28 seater trailer which is fully wheelchair accessible,  offers tours of the garden on certain days. Garden buggy tours are also running for visitors to book at a small additional charge. 

I visited Chatsworth House as a member of a press trip with the Garden Media Guild

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