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Review: Chatsworth House Gardens

Attraction - Park & Garden

Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1PP, United Kingdom

Four hundred years of gardening history

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2230 reviews

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  • July 2016
  • Solo

18 people found this review helpful

Chatsworth House is described as one of the Treasure Houses of England. The gardens provide a grand setting for what must be one of the finest houses in the country. There are over 100 acres of grounds and five miles of footpaths to explore. There is something for everyone to enjoy from the cascade on a hot summer day to the seclusion of the ravine with its winding paths and small ponds.

The original Tudor House was surrounded by formal gardens. Little remain of these except the canal pond and the cascade. The fourth Duke commissioned Capability Brown to redesign the grounds into the then fashionable parkland with mature trees. Much of this landscape still survives.

The sixth Duke employed Joseph Paxton as head gardener. He was responsible for greenhouses along Conservative Wall as well as a massive greenhouse on what is now the maze. This was a fore runner of the Crystal Place but became too costly to run and was demolished soon after the First World War. He also designed the Emperor fountain in the canal pond. This involved draining moorland on the scarp behind the house to make a reservoir to feed the fountain. The monumental greenhouse is also his work.

The present gardens owe much to the Deborah, late Dowager Duchess who redesigned the private west garden and was responsible for much of the planting in the rest of the gardens.

The gardens are entered either from the orangery shop after touring the house or via Flora’s Temple. This imitation classical temple was built by the first Duke as a bowling green house but was moved to its present position by the fourth Duke as part of the Capability Brown Landscaping.

The area around the orangery has been planted as a wild flower area.

The Broad Walk runs from Flora’s Temple parallel to the east front of the house, to Blanche’s Urn set on the skyline a third of a mile away. On the left is the vast expanse of the Salisbury Lawns, planted by Capability Brown replacing the formal terraces, parterres and fountains of the original gardens. This is now very popular with families and for picnics. Beyond the house on the right is the Sea Horse fountain fed by water piped from the cascade. Beyond is the Canal Pond and the magnificent Emperor Fountain. These was part of the original gardens although Paxton rebuilt the fountain for the sixth Duke in anticipation of a visit from the Tsar. A conduit was dug across the moorland above Chatsworth to drain into a newly constructed reservoir which had sufficient head of water to project a fountain nearly 300’ into the air. Unfortunately the Tsar never came. At the turn of the C20th three turbines using the pressure of the water supply to the Emperor Fountain provided electricity to the house. They still generate about a third of the electricity needed.

On the opposite side of the Broad Walk to the Canal Pond is an area of mature woodland with groups of specimen trees planted by Capability Brown.

The Ring Pond is off the Broad Walk at the start of the woodland and is surrounded by a neatly trimmed hedge with bulbous topiary trees around it. Between them are twelve stone busts standing on tapered stone columns. There are views up an avenue to the rock garden.

The Serpentine Hedge runs from the Ring Pond to a bronze head of the sixth Duke at the far end. This was planted in 1953 and has been deliberately planted to resemble a ‘crinkle crankle wall’.

Towards the end, a flight of stone steps leads up to the old Conservatory Garden and the Maze. These continue up the hillside above the maze as the Hundred Steps to the arboretum.

The old conservatory covered just over three quarters of an acre and caused a sensation when it was finished. It was the largest glass building in England until Paxton designed the Crystal Palace. Unfortunately it was in a very poor condition after the war. Not only there was no coal to heat the eight underground boilers, it was too costly to repair and was dismantled. The bottom of the walls were left and form the surrounds for the maze which now occupies most of the area. At either end are small formal flower beds.

At the far end of the garden reached along a bamboo lined path with hostas, is the Ravine. This is a very informal area with a small stream running down a steep valley, and left to go wild with many wild flowers like foxgloves and rose bay willow herb as well as ferns. A small iron bridge crosses the top of the ravine.

Above the Ravine is the Grotto Pond. This was originally an ancient fish pond but is now an ornamental feature with a stone grotto standing a on a small rise above it. It drains down the trough waterfall into the ravine.

Well made paths continue through the arboretum planted by Paxton with many new species to the country. There is a good view down the Hundred Steps to the Maze before dropping down to the Rock Garden. The monumental Rockery was built as a reminder of the sixth Duke’s visit to the Alps. The rocks were brought from nearby Dobb Edge and tower above the paths. From the top there are good views across the gardens to the Ring Pond and a deep artificial valley called the Strid.

Beyond the Rock Garden on the way to the Cascade and set behind a refreshment kiosk, is the Willow Tree Fountain. This is a C19th copy of the original fountain made in 1695. It is made of brass and has water jets from the ends of the branches. Set in its small glade, it looks remarkably modern.

The cascade is one of the most popular parts of the garden, especially in hot weather. It was built for the first Duke in 1696 but was rebuilt on a grander scale a few years later. Each of the steps is different to the one above or below, so varying the sound of the water as it flows downwards. At the base the water flows underground to the sea horse fountain in front of the House and is then piped to a fountain in the private west garden before flowing into the river.

At the top is the Cascade House with statues and dolphins. This was originally designed so the water flowed out of the top of the roof, but the continuous flow uses up to much water and is just kept for special occasions.

The Kitchen Garden behind the stable block replaces the original walled Kitchen Garden which was abandoned after the Second World War. It is a riot of flowers, vegetables and fruit which supplies the house and restaurants. The surplus is sold in the Farm Shop.

The cottage garden is actually designed to represent a cottage with a table and chairs on the ground floor and a yew stair case leading to the bedroom above with four poster bed. In front of it is a small parterre garden.

Below is the 1970s greenhouse. Next to it is the first Duke’s Greenhouse which was built to grow citrus fruits but now houses the camelia collection. In front of it is the Rose Garden.

The Adventure playground and farmyard with its daily activities are popular with the children.

Allow plenty of time to enjoy the gardens, and take something to drink with you, especially if it is a hot day.

There are more pictures here.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 1 Comment(s)

  • PamN
    almost 3 years ago
    The gardens sound wonderful. My mum's school was evacuated to Chatsworth during the war so lived there for 2 years, sleeping in one of the painted bedrooms. There's a postcard in the gift shop of her skating on the lake in winter. We must definitely plan a visit.