The Historic Estate Garden: Chatsworth

The last of summer horticulture with the Duke of Devonshire


As far as country piles go, Chatsworth is as grand as it gets. The garden grounds cover 105 acres seamlessly blended into the surrounding 1,000-acre park along the Derwent River valley in Derbyshire, England. “For a relatively formal garden, especially compared to the French or Italian, I love the wilderness they’ve allowed with wild pockets and connecting fields,” says director Marcus Werner Hed, who was given an intimate tour of the grounds by the 12th Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish. 

“For a relatively formal garden, I love the wilderness they’ve allowed with wild pockets and connecting fields”

Chatsworth’s legacy has evolved over six centuries from its construction by Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick in 1555, taking in the 1st Duke of Devonshire’s (1684-1707) baroque features, such as the Cascade House; the naturalization of landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown, who replaced ponds and parterres with trees and lawns; the 6th Duke’s (1826-58) partnership with Kew-trained gardener Joseph Paxton, who is credited with having the single greatest influence on the garden, bolstered by an era of plentiful plant-hunting expeditions; through to the additions made by Peregrine Cavendish’s late parents, the 11th Duke Andrew Cavendish and the ever-stylish Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah “Debo” Mitford. Cavendish and Mitford were both keen horticulturalists, playing a vital role in reviving the grounds after World War II, not only in restoring historical features, but also by adding to much of what the current Duke looks after today (with the help of 20 gardeners, two trainees and 25 volunteers).

“If I were reincarnated as a plant I would be something like a scots pine”

The Duke enjoys seeing the garden transformed each year by Sotheby’s annual Beyond Limits exhibition, which this September and October celebrates the best of British sculpture, featuring works by artists such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth. But planting is where his mind is at: “If I were reincarnated as [a plant] I would be something like a Scots pine, which would grow quite quickly and last for quite a long time, and look quite gnarled and nice when you get old.” 

Lee C. Wallick is a journalist and editor based in Somerset.



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