David and I enjoyed our visit to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.It’s on the banks of the Derwent River in the Wye Valley. Construction of this grand country house began in 1553, under the auspices of Sir William Cavendish – politician, courtier and 1st Earl of Devonshire – and his wife, Bess of Hardwicke. The last four hundred years has seen their small Elizabethan garden developed and greatly expanded, into the huge parklands we enjoy today.
Between 1760 and 1754, The 4th Duke employed garden designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, whose skills and fame were on the rise. His nickname arose from a propensity to discuss the capabilities of a particular site. At Chatsworth, rocky hills give rise to heather moors. Over time, he transformed working farmland into a park. This huge task included land-forming, drainage, levelling and turfing. This produced the rolling green slopes we enjoy today. He planted trees singly, in clumps, and as a perimeter belt to enclose the view. He paid attention to the vista in planning carriage rides.
A QUIRKY NATURAL SCULPTURE/FENCE ADDS INTEREST TO THE LANDSCAPE
The 6th Duke of Devonshire inherited a garden neglected by his father. In the age of plant-hunting expeditions, he acquired many new species. In 1827, Joseph Paxton was appointed head gardener. Some say, he was the greatest single influence on Chatsworth’s gardens: but Capability had certainly provided a significant contribution, and left a far from a bare canvas to be tackled by his successors.
Paxton proved to be an innovative gardener. In 1835, he planted a succession of trees in the arboretum, and diverted a trout stream two miles from the East moor for aesthetic effect. In 1842, Paxton laid out a gargantuan rock garden, balancing huge boulders, one atop another, a remarkable feat in days before earth-moving equipment. He also glassed-in The Case, a large Conservatory which protects sensitive plants such as figs, peaches and shrubs from the effects of cold.
PAXTON’S GIGANTIC ROCK GARDEN, taken on the move
Expecting a visit from Tsar Nicholas of Russia, the 6th Duke decided to construct a tall fountain in his honour. Gardeners set to work, digging out an eight acre lake in the moors above the house, to provide sufficient water pressure. It was completed in just six months, working by flares at night. The Emperor Fountain, at the North end of the Canal Pond, reaches 290 feet, the highest in the world, and is surrounded by rocks and statues. It is rarely shown at full height, due to water limitations. It supplied electricity to the house. The park we enjoy today requires twenty gardeners, two trainees and over twenty volunteers.
Chatsworth House has been featured in many films, including Pride and Prejudice. This version of the famous novel, filmed interior and exterior shots – the supposed country estate of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Famous guests of Chatsworth include Mary, Queen of Scots, held prisoner there at different times from 1568 to 1584. And Princess – later Queen – Victoria, aged 13, had her first adult formal dinner at Chatsworth.
A delightful feature of our visit was an exhibition, The Dog. It features the bond between canines and man throughout 400 years. Arranged by the Duchess, it shows the family’s enduring love for these animals. She trains her own dogs for obedience and field trials. A rich canine history is shown in paintings, drawings, sculpture, letters, photographs, tapestries and on china – it celebrates all breeds. Artists exhibiting include Jeff Koons, Faberge and Anthony Gormly, with one of his Lost Dogs. Pooches are even featured in a State Bedroom frieze. The Duke and Duchess support Hearing Dogs for the Deaf.
ABOVE Unknown Mutt with a friendly smile by Garfield Besa on Pexels.com
Enjoy the antics of Henny, the family Golden Doodle , at www.Instagram.com/chatswoof.