Designed to appear as if seeping from the ground, Natural Course will flow down a woodland slope in the previously undeveloped, 15-acre area called Arcadia, which is being created by celebrated garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith. Assembled by coordination of hand and eye to give the great mass of stone a sense of slow, gradual movement over the land, Natural Course aims to suggest an innate life force to the hard and seemingly motionless stone.

Natural Course will push the boundaries of dry stone walling technique. Very different from a typical boundary wall, the technical challenge comes from both the sheer volume of material used and particularly its 40 metres of contours and curves. At more than 10m in length and 2m in height with a base width varying from 50cm to 3m, visitors will be able to enter up to 5m into the sculpture, giving a feeling of being swallowed by stone.

Built from more than 100 tonnes of local stone taken from the Bretton Moor Quarry near Foolow, less than five miles away, Natural Course will be made from tens of thousands of individual, hand placed pieces using a traditional dry-stone walling method. Work is underway with a small team of local dry stone wallers and Laura Ellen Bacon aims to complete the build by April 2020.

Usually working in wood, often willow, Laura Ellen Bacon is known for creating large-scale organic forms but this is her first major commission in stone. Natural Course will join more than 20 sculptural works at Chatsworth by post war masters including Antony Gormley, Angela Conner, Elisabeth Frink, Allen Jones, Michael Craig-Martin and Barry Flanagan.

Laura Ellen Bacon: “This sculpture is a development of my study of form and particularly site-specific works. Inspirations for the work have come from the vast network of dry stone walls across Derbyshire as well as the volume and handling of the immense stones in the Rockery at Chatsworth itself, which is one of the earliest and largest rock gardens in the world.”

“The form, with a quiet nod to a consumption wall in its method, appears to slowly flow over the land and confront the visitor with its sense of mass and quiet movement – referencing the absorbing process of working with one’s hands and the epic work involved in creating the dry stone walls found across Derbyshire.”

The Peak District home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth has begun work on the biggest transformation of its garden since Joseph Paxton's work finished more than 200 years ago. Having completed the £32m Masterplan project to conserve the house a few years ago, the Duke and Duchess have since been planning to have a similar revitalising effect on the garden.

The Duke of Devonshire: “Laura created a temporary sculptural installation in the garden called Woven Space about seven years ago. Sculpture has always been integral to the garden so, as we were developing early plans for the garden’s transformation at that time, we began talking about ideas for something more permanent. We were keen on something that strongly referenced both Chatsworth itself and the Derbyshire landscape from which it was born.”

“We gave Laura freedom to explore the garden and develop her vision for the location, the materials used, and the sculptural form. I’ve visited her studio in Cromford on various occasions in the past and have been very excited to see how her plans and models have evolved into what will become Natural Course. Its use of local stone and the dry stone walling method will root it in its environment and surroundings but at the same time the ‘hand and eye’ construction and shape make it surprising and thought-provoking in keeping with Chatsworth’s best traditions.”

The Arcadia area is part of a huge garden transformation project that also includes a remodelled Rockery, the Maze borders, the Ravine, and Dan Pearson’s redevelopment of the Trout Stream and the Jack Pond. It includes the clearance of previously inaccessible areas, large-scale structure installations, new sculpture commissions, the movement and addition of hundreds of tonnes of rock, hundreds of thousands of new plants and hundreds of new trees, as well as new pathways taking visitors into underexplored areas of the garden.

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 up to 90m.


Notes to editors:

Laura Ellen Bacon

British Sculptor, Laura Ellen Bacon (born 1976) is based in Matlock, Derbyshire and works raw materials into large-scale or ‘human-scale’ artworks, in both interior and landscape settings.

Working with predominantly natural materials and her bare hands, her works embrace, surround or engulf architectural and natural structures.

Her work has been described as ‘startling but beckoning’; ‘monumental yet intimate’; ‘frenzied yet calm’. Laura’s particular use of materials emerges from a compulsive desire to work them into a formed space of some kind, using a language of materials that seems strangely familiar to the natural world.

In 2017 Bacon was shortlisted for the BBC Woman’s Hour Craft Prize. Her work has been commissioned by Chatsworth House Trust and the Holburne Museum, Bath. She has had exhibitions at the Welbeck Estate, Ruthin Craft Centre and Roche Court.

Timeline & principal changes to Chatsworth’s garden

Rockery | Tom Stuart-Smith | early 2018 to 2021. Principal features: Improved access and rock interest plus massed perennial 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 much developed.

The principal features are made up of views out across the park or routes to other parts of the garden that surrounds 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; between September 2019 and 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 Chatsworth’s and Laurent Perrier’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.

His latest contribution to make best use of this area will be to redesign the Jack Pond to include a large, 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.


Having completed the £32m Masterplan project to restore the house a few years ago, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire have since been planning to have a similar revitalising effect on the garden.

The Duke of Devonshire: “Chatsworth is often thought of as timeless but the truth is that it has always been changing. What we think of now as ‘traditional’ was often considered challenging or revolutionary at the time. ‘Capability’ Brown and Joseph Paxton used the latest tools, techniques and ideas to deliver their particular genius for modern garden design.

“Tom Stuart-Smith and Dan Pearson have the vision and talent to continue Chatsworth’s radical tradition. We’re going to create an exciting, beautiful, contemporary garden that stands on the shoulders of those earlier giants.”

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