The 6th Duke of Devonshire became intensely interested in gardening after he met Joseph Paxton (1803–1865), a young gardener working in the Horticultural Society's gardens at Chiswick, which adjoined the Duke's land there. Paxton was appointed head gardener at Chatsworth in 1826.
At Chatsworth, Paxton built the Great Conservatory between 1836 and 1840, contrived the Emperor Fountain and grew the 'Victoria Regia' water lily for the first time in Europe. Amongst Paxton's many other achievements, he went on to design and build the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in 1851.
Paxton's correspondence is extant in the collections at Chatsworth. These two letters show Paxton in typical energetic form, the first dealing with housing the 'Victoria Regia' the second with the Crystal Palace.
'We have been obliged to make the Tank for the Victoria as large again as when your Grace saw it. One leaf this morning measured 4 feet across. Nothing can exceed its health and vigor but I fear this extraordinary growth will not go on much longer, as the weather has set in heat, and very cloudy...'
'All is going well with the Great Building but there was a sad accident Tuesday - I am very careful about myself, as I know the danger, the drawings in the Illustrated News are very good, and show it exactly. I am almost bothered to death just now with applications of all sorts, and the demands to take my Portraits is almost beyond endurance, coupled with invitations to dine out, and attend public meetings, all of which are a great bore, and I now decline them all.'
image 1 - Joseph Paxton, image 2 - The 6th Duke of Devonshire