In the garden at Chatsworth House: Part 1
A garden in winter reveals its skeleton, shed of most of its green surface layer, enabling you to see the physical structure of the space. Happily heavy overnight rain washed away the blanket of snow which I’d encountered when visiting Chatsworth House the day before. The 100 acre site seems bigger, perhaps because of the terrain: wooded slopes rising from more formal areas either side of the Broad Walk, running parallel with the eastern elevation of the house. According to the health App. on my phone on the evening of my visit, I had climbed the equivalent of 35 storeys!
As you enter the garden, you see a series of garden buildings. I hesitate to call them glasshouses, because the grandest of them is more in the style of an orangery, and is called the 3rd Duke’s Greenhouse. Consisting of two growing spaces, separated by a columned loggia, it houses a collection of camellias, considered too tender for growing in the Derbyshire climate. It immediately reminded me of the Conservatory at Chiswick House (currently closed for renovation) but home to camellias first planted in the nineteenth century. It is perhaps no coincidence that comparisons can be drawn between Chatsworth and Chiswick.
First a little history: when the 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720 – 1764) married Lady Charlotte Boyle, the Cavendish family estates increased considerably for she was the only surviving child of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. As well as an Irish castle (Lismore), two estates in Yorkshire and a house in London (Burlington House, now the home of the Royal Academy), the Earl’s legacy included Chiswick House, a couple of miles from where I sit typing this blog post. William Kent (1685-1748) (who with the Earl of Burlington transformed the gardens at Chiswick House and indeed the house itself) produced designs for remodelling the cascade at Chatsworth and is thought to have influenced the naturalisation of the garden.
As well as camellias, this greenhouse shelters tender climbers such as Lapageria rosea with its elongated bell-shaped flowers. In my last post I mentioned the influence of the late Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014), on the property. Amongst the many famous faces of the twentieth century she knew, was the 35th president of the USA, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Indeed they were related by marriage as Jack Kennedy’s sister Kathleen (known as ‘Kick’) married her husband, Andrew Cavendish’s elder brother Billy Hartington in 1944. Billy was killed in Belgium later that year during the Allied advance after D-Day making Andrew heir to the Dukedom. Tragically Kick died in 1948 when the plane in which she was flying to the south of France from Paris crashed. Intrigued by two curvaceous silver chairs in the loggia between the two sections of the greenhouse, on closer inspection I found they were constructed from hundreds of half dollar pieces, all bearing the profile of JFK.
There are three other ‘glasshouses’ near the garden entrance, none of which was open on the day of my visit:
The Vinery and the Case were both designed by Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) who became head gardener at Chatsworth in 1826. As well as the surviving buildings, in 1836 he also built what was at the time the largest glass structure in the world, the Great Stove. His innovations at Chatsworth informed what was to become his masterpiece, the Crystal Palace, centrepiece of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park of 1851. Sadly, Chatsworth’s Great Stove was demolished in the 1920s, but its stone perimeter wall remains, forming the boundary of a yew maze created in 1962. In the tradition of employing the most influential garden designers of the day, the planting in the borders of the Maze has been updated by Tom Stuart-Smith, the variety of grasses being particularly noteworthy on the day of my visit.
I chatted to a group of gardeners planting bulbs on the slope to the east of the Maze and learned they were planting Narcissus Mount Hood.
A climb of a hundred steps leads to the Arboretum, from which there is a spectacular view back to the Maze and the parkland beyond. The colours and textures of the planting either side of the steps are beautiful.
Garden designers at the top of their game, one from the 19th century and another from the 21st century, have created one of the central features of the gardens at Chatsworth. Joseph Paxton built the three acre Rock Garden starting in 1842, using stone from elsewhere on the Chatsworth estate. The rock formations are monumental and can seem overpowering, particularly in dull weather. Since 2018 Tom Stuart-Smith has been introducing naturalistic and ecologically inspired planting so as to
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.Tom Stuart-Smith. Press release 9 December 2020.
Throughout the garden, as in the house, contemporary art is given equal weight with historic sculpture. In the Rock Garden, Emily Young’s Lion Woman blends perfectly with the surrounding rocks.
Tom Stuart-Smith is also transforming a a 15 acre site at the heart of the garden, Arcadia, by planting large trees and shrubs and extensive herbaceous perennials in a series of glades linked by woodland walks. Another eminent garden designer who is putting his stamp on Chatsworth is Dan Pearson who began to redevelop the Trout Stream in 2015. This narrow watercourse meanders close to the western boundary of the garden. The original concept for the new planting in this area was demonstrated in a garden created by the designer for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2015 which won Best in Show. A track runs alongside the stream, just wide enough for a couple of people, enabling you to see the plants at close quarters.
A few metres from the stream you can walk across to the pond which feeds the Cascade, and ultimately the Sea Horse Fountain in the south lawn beside the house. The original Cascade was completed in 1696 to a design by Louis IV’s hydraulics engineer, Grillet. Only a few years later, a steeper flight of steps was installed culminating in the Cascade House, from which the water dramatically gushes forth.
One of Barry Flanagan’s hare sculptures, Drummer, stands beside another body of water in the outer reaches of the garden, the Grotto Pond. The Grotto itself is a rustic timber building with a slate roof atop a mass of boulders.
One of my favourite spots in the garden for contemporary sculpture is the Angela Conner Grove, where various members of royalty as well as the artistic and literary worlds are portrayed. Chatsworth’s equivalent of the busts in William Kent’s Temple of British Worthies at Stowe in Buckinghamshire?
I can see that Chatsworth is a place that I could visit many times over and still find new aspects to enjoy. Next time: more Chatsworth sculptures feature and a very impressive Kitchen Garden.
4 December 2021