Chatsworth’s flower power

More than 50,000 flowering perennials, shrubs and trees are going into the ground at Chatsworth, the historic home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, in Derbyshire, ready to bring a riot of colour and new growth to the world famous 105-acre garden when it reopens later in the season.

While the garden is closed to visitors during the coronavirus pandemic, the garden team are engaged in a two-month-long planting programme in the Rock Garden as well as the 15-acre former wilderness now known as Arcadia. The work includes planting thousands of new plants to fill the four recently created open glades between the Cascade and the Grotto pond to the south.

The gardening team are working to a plan devised by renowned garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith with support by the Gucci fashion house. The Arcadia area has been cleared and hundreds of new trees planted, creating new, meadow-like glades connected by woodland walks. A major new stone sculpture installation has been placed called ‘Natural Course’ built by the artist Laura Ellen Bacon.

The garden usually has a full-time team of 25 supported by around 75 volunteers who work under Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter. However, numbers have had to be reduced during the coronavirus pandemic. Working in different areas and observing strict social distancing and hygiene rules, a core team of ten, has, however, received helping hands from the Devonshire family with both the Duke and Duchess and their daughter-in-law Lady Burlington joining in.

The Duke has been in every day cutting tulips to give to staff, and he and the Duchess have helped with planting and watering. They appreciate everything, their feedback has been so important,” says Steve Porter.

The new wet glade in the Arcadia area, (pictured above) to be known as the Bog Garden, will gain 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.

Planting in the Trout Stream area includes some 7000 additional plants familiar to the woodland floor. This area is connected to Dan Pearson’s creation of Chatsworth’s ‘Best in Show’ garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2015, which provided Dan with the conceptual inspiration for the new planting and seating.

The new planting in the Rock Garden will see Irises as the standout flower with perennials consistent with the initial planting in this area, which took place in 2019.

Chatsworth’s garden has been carefully cultivated for nearly 500 years and is one of the UK’s favourite visitor destinations. The revitalisation of the gardens follows the £32m masterplan project to restore the house and will bring new life and points of interest while at the same time retaining many early features. The Canal Pond, Cascade and the Duke’s Greenhouse, the famous Willow Tree Fountain and the impressive, gravity-fed Emperor Fountain are all retained with the new planting and designs complementing the early features.

Work commenced in early 2018 on the Rockery (above)and is due to finish in 2021. Here, Tom Stuart-Smith has designed improved access and rock interest plus massed perennials plantings to provide summer long interest. This is one of the earliest rock gardens in the world and was described by Joseph Paxton as an ‘imitation of the natural features of a wild and rugged scene…’ Tom points out that the Rockery occupies an area of three acres: “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,” he explains.

Work on the Arcadia area commenced in 2018 and will finish in 2021. This lies in the heart of the garden and its principal features 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.

The revitalisation of the Trout Stream and Jack Pond area, designed by Dan Pearson, commenced in late 2015 and is due to complete this year. Dan’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 hidden by vegetation. Planting will aim for a calming effect.

Chatsworth is 16 miles from the M1, 10 miles from Chesterfield, and 8 miles north of Matlock, in the heart of Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park and is well served by transport links throughout the UK. For information please visit:

All images strictly ©Chatsworth House Trust