A new ‘meadow glade' bursting with thousands of flowers including Primula, Campanula, Ranunculus, Deschampsia, Succisa and many more has been created to mark the final major planting in Chatsworth’s biggest garden transformation for nearly 200 years.
A trio of Britain’s leading garden designers, Tom Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson and James Hitchmough, have worked with Chatsworth’s Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter and his team for more than three years to redevelop the world famous 105-acre garden.
More than 300,000 plants, including hundreds of trees, have gone into the ground across a previously underdeveloped 15-acre area known as ‘Arcadia’. Major work has also been done in a further 10-acres that includes a remodelled Rock Garden, the Maze Borders, the Ravine, Trout Stream and Jack Pond.
Work continued right through the pandemic with a reduced garden team given a helping hand by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire who were keen to develop a more sustainable future for the garden. During autumn 2020, around 95% of 70,000 perennials and bulbs were planted peat-free and were either grown in the open ground and transported bare root, or in biodegradable pots made from remoulded husks that are a by-product of the rice industry.
“The Duke and Duchess have often been in the garden helping out with planting, placing and watering, particularly when we were short-handed” says Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter. “They have been very involved and supportive of a more sustainable approach and that will be a key theme in the next round of changes in the garden.”
“We’ve been reducing the environmental impact of our work in all areas. The plants grown on site for Chatsworth’s shops are already completely peat-free and almost no pesticides or fungicides are used in the glasshouses - predatory bugs are released instead as part of an integrated pest control programme.”
James Hitchmough, based at the nearby University of Sheffield, has overseen the seeding of the new ‘meadow glade’ with thousands of perennial flowers, one of four new glades in Arcadia. New pathways take visitors deep into Arcadia’s heart, with earlier plantings already well established and flowering.
A wet glade known as the bog garden, contains 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.
The overall plan for Arcadia by landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith, supported by Gucci, saw 15-acres cleared for the planting of hundreds of new trees and the four meadow-like glades connected by woodland walks. A major new art installation called ‘Natural Course’ has been created by the Derbyshire artist Laura Ellen Bacon using more than 100 tonnes of local stone to build a monumental sculptural centrepiece.
One of the Duke of Devonshire’s favourite shrubs, Daphne, features strongly in Arcadia, particularly around seating areas because of its scent, while winter Helleborus in different colours and Primula in spring are other highlights.
In the Rock Garden, Iris are a standout flower among more than 12,000 new plants, which include many more grasses and perennials. Work along the Trout Stream has included some 7000 additional plants familiar to a woodland floor, such as Tiarella and Epimedium.
Redevelopment of the Trout Stream has been 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.
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 and 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
Rock Garden | Tom Stuart-Smith | early 2018 to 2021. Principal features: Improved access and rock interest plus massed perennials plantings.
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 Rock Garden 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 were 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 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 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 have been woven into the tapestry. The areas of planting are much more extensive than they previously were, largely eliminating several small areas of worn grass.”
Arcadia | Tom Stuart-Smith | mid 2018 to 2021. Arcadia lies at the heart of the garden and at 15 acres in size; it might seem anomalous that it had 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 Rock Garden 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, two acres were planted 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 have been subdivided to make them more accessible with longer season planting. Stone pillars and large Yew trees have been installed and shaped. Herbaceous planting took place during April 2019.
Trout Steam and Jack Pond - Dan Pearson, from late 2015 to 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.