Workers planting seeds at Chatsworth garden

Sustainable planting beds in at Chatsworth

PR for Chatsworth

12 November 2020. By using biodegradable plant pots and peat-free compost for its current phase of development, Chatsworth has taken major steps towards the sustainable future management of its world-famous 105-acre garden as it begins the final, large-scale planting of a three-year transformation project.

More than 40,000 perennial plants and over 30,000 bulbs are going into the ground this autumn. Overall, 95% of the current planting is peat free and has either been grown in the open ground and transported bare root, or in biodegradable pots that have been made from remoulded husks that are a by-product of the rice industry.  Only a few specialist trees and shrubs have been grown using peat.

This autumn’s planting covers around three acres and includes the woodland areas surrounding the 100 steps that run up the hillside from The Maze, originally the site of Joseph Paxton’s Great Conservatory, and lead to the monumental, contemporary sculpture at the top, Chaos Meteoro by Jedd Novatt. This area will feature perennials and grasses including Aster, Geraniums, Iris, Phlox, Pulmonaria, Molinia and Pennisetum as well as Rhododendrons, Kalmia, Hydrangea and Euonymus.

Chatsworth has also been working with Professor James Hitchmough of Sheffield University to sow and establish a new half-acre ‘Meadow Glade’ between the Maze and Grotto Pond as part of the latest planting. James Hitchmough is an expert in the design, ecology and management of herbaceous vegetation and species such as Primula, Aquilegia, Campanula, Rudbeckia, Salvias, Euphorbias, Iris and Aconitum and many others are being used for this perennial meadow.  New pathways will take visitors deep into the heart of this seeded meadow area, which will take a few years to establish itself in full but will start to bloom from next summer.

The autumn planting is expected to take several weeks, depending on the weather and the restrictions made necessary during the coronavirus pandemic. The core garden team of twelve will almost certainly receive helping hands from the Cavendish family with both the Duke and Duchess and their daughter-in-law Lady Burlington often joining the effort on major plantings.

“The Duke and Duchess have come into the garden most days and often help out with planting, placing and watering“ says Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter. “They are very involved in the whole garden transformation project and keen that we take a more sustainable approach.”

“There’s more we can and will do because there is real support across the garden team and from the family as well as our garden designers and suppliers. We will be making more changes in the years ahead because it’s what we want and because it’s what visitors expect from Chatsworth.”

Driven by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the Chatsworth garden team have been improving the sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of their work in all areas. The plants grown on site for Chatsworth’s shops are already completely peat-free and almost no pesticides and fungicides are now used in the glasshouses – predatory bugs are released instead as part of an integrated pest control programme.

Working to a plan by the garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith and supported by Gucci, planning and delivery of the project has seen the addition of more than 300,000 new plants across 25 acres of the historic garden. It includes the creation of new, meadow-like glades connected by woodland walks and features a major new, stone sculpture installation called ‘Natural Course’ built by the artist Laura Ellen Bacon.

One of Britain’s largest private garden transformations, it includes a remodelled Rock Garden, new borders north and south of the Maze, a revamping of the Ravine, as well as the Trout Stream and associated Jack Pond, and the new Arcadia glades.

Garden designers Tom Stuart-Smith and Dan Pearson are working alongside Chatsworth’s Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter, and his team to add major new layers. 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. 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 of up to 90m.

Workers at Chatsworth garden sowing seeds


Timeline & principal changes

Rock Garden | Tom Stuart-Smith | early 2018 to 2021. Principal features: Improved access and rock interest plus massed perennials 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 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 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 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.

The Arcadia development is supported by Gucci.

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 shaped. 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 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.

Dan Pearson’s latest contribution to make best use of this area will be to redesign the Jack Pond to include a 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.

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