Final touches to Chatsworth’s Arcadia

The finishing touches to the biggest garden transformation for nearly 200 years at the iconic Chatsworth, are nearing completion. A new ‘meadow glade’ bursting with thousands of flowers including Primula, Campanula and Succisa, has been created to mark the final major planting of the redevelopment.

A trio of Britain’s leading garden designers, Tom Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson and James Hitchmough, have worked with Chatsworth’s Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter and his team for more than three years to redevelop the world famous 105-acre garden.

(above:Tom-Stuart Smith’s planting around the Maze)

More than 300,000 plants, including hundreds of trees, have gone into the ground across a previously underdeveloped 15-acre area known as ‘Arcadia’. Major work has also been done in a further 10-acres that includes a re-modelled Rock Garden, the Maze Borders, the Ravine, Trout Stream and Jack Pond.

Work was able to continue through the pandemic with a reduced garden team, given a helping hand by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (pictured left) who are keen to develop a more sustainable future for the garden.

During autumn 2020, around 95% of 70,000 perennials and bulbs were planted peat-free and were either grown in the open ground and transported bare root, or in biodegradable pots.

Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter (pictured left) said: “The Duke and Duchess have often been in the garden helping out with planting, placing and watering, particularly when we were short-handed.”

Steve added that they have been 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 or fungicides are used in the glasshouses.

James Hitchmough who is based at the University of Sheffield, has overseen the seeding of the new ‘meadow glade’ with thousands of perennial flowers, one of four new glades in Arcadia. A wet glade known as the bog garden contains more than 34,000 new plants and bulbs including 8000 Camassia grown in Chatsworth’s nurseries.

The overall plan for Arcadia by landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith, supported by Gucci, saw 15-acres cleared for the planting of hundreds of new trees and four meadow-like glades connected by woodland walks. A monumental sculptural centrepiece has been created by Derbyshire artist Laura Ellen Bacon using more than 100 tonnes of local stone.

One of the Duke’s favourite shrubs, Daphne, features strongly in Arcadia, while in the rock garden Iris is a standout flower among more than 12,000 new plants.

Redevelopment of the Trout Stream has been intimately connected to Dan Pearson’s creation of Chatsworth’s ‘Best in Show’ garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015, which provided Dan with the conceptual inspiration for the new planting and seating. (pictured right: Head of Gardens and Landscape, Steve Porter).

The Rock Garden occupies an area of three acres and is one of the earliest and largest rock gardens in the world. Tom Stuart-Smith points out that 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 were 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. Improvement to these two entrances redefine the Rock Garden as a fantasy domain, full of variety, spontaneous naturalness and picturesque division, quite separate from the rest of the garden where openess, smoothness and settled grandeur prevail,” said Tom.

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. Nearly 500 years of careful cultivation has retained many early features including the famous waterworks – the 300-year-old cascade and the gravity-fed Emperor Fountain.

(Above: The Rockery)

The restoration works in the gardens follows the completion of a £32m Masterplan project to restore the house a few years ago. His Grace said: “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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Picture credits: All images strictly ©Chatsworth Trust/Estate