Chatsworth Gardens

Over a year has gone by since my last garden post, but I’ll try to make up for it with this photo essay of a spectacular garden in Derbyshire. A month ago we were back in our house in the UK and one of the nearby attractions we had never been to was Chatsworth, the grand estate of the Cavendish family, the Dukes of Devonshire, with its equally grand gardens. It seems to be true that one is never a tourist in the place you live, so being out of the country for quite a while has given us fresh eyes on our own UK neighbourhood.

Chatsworth house is huge – this photo below is of the famous views from the side. It sits on a wide terrace constructed on a slope. The pleasure garden lies on this terrace and the slopes front and back with acres of Capability Brown designed parkland – grazing pastures in front and a forest above. As you can see, this summer has been unusually hot and dry. Brown and yellow grass is highly unusual for Britain.

A number of monumental structures are found throughout the landscape. At the top of the hill, looking down one hundred steps, is the maze. The maze was designed in the 1960s where once the Great Conservatory stood. The conservatory was designed by Joseph Paxton, the early 19th century head gardener at Chatsworth, and built between 1836 and 1840. It was the forerunner to Paxton’s other large glass building – the Crystal Palace in London. It became derelict during the first World War and was torn down in 1920.

The maze is now surrounded by monumental stone walls and gateways – the foundations that remain from the early 19th century conservatory.

Taking advantage of the natural slope is a “temple” constructed in 1702 where the Cascade flows down in a series of steps.

Overflow water from the pond also trickles down the slope on the far side of the garden through a series of artfully placed agricultural troughs, constructed in 1992.

Marching up the slope towards the stable block on the other side of the gardens (just behind the house) is a narrow row of early Victorian greenhouses. It is known as the Conservative Wall and was designed specifically for fan-shaped fruit trees.

Further up the slope is a greenhouse just for dessert grapes and another very modern one, built in 1970, houses plants from three separate climate zones. The tropical zone has bananas of the variety Musa acuminata ‘Dwarf Cavendish’. The variety was originally imported from Mauritus in 1829 to Chatsworth and did so well that one was sent to Samoa where it flourished and spread further afield; it is now the most common commercially grown banana in the world.

The oldest greenhouse, however, was built in the 1690s by the first Duke. It now houses the family’s prized collection of camilla varieties.

More Victorian greenhouses lie in the kitchen garden.

This is where the seedlings are started before planting out. Below are beautiful yellow courgettes – ready to harvest.

The kitchen garden is high up on the hill. You can see back down to the house and the parkland beyond.

Fruit and vegetables are set in blocks with paths between with arches laden with fruit.

Functional, but also aesthetic is the rotating mirrored sculpture to keep birds away from the produce. It is certainly a step up from stringing old CDs.

Other sculpted works are dotted throughout the gardens. In a circular hedged garden with a formal pond and fountain in the centre were 18th century herms. Seen in the image below is the Roman Emperor Claudius on the left and and on the right, a youthful rendition of the poet Horace.

More modern art includes a giant neon pink stiletto along the side of the Grotto Pond below the actual grotto and near the Pinetum (a botanical collection of conifers). You can just see Barry Flanagan’s bronze statute of Drummer, a leaping hare beating a tabwrdd or bodhrán (respectively a Welsh or Irish flat drum), through the stiletto on the far side of the pond.

Another whimsical statue looks exactly like a big block of granite. But, one must get close and look through the port holes drilled into the surface – as this woman is doing.

A magical land lies within.

Friends from Greece can also be found: Byron on top of Greek temple column drums and a modern bronze bust of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the latter by the modern sculptor, Angela Conner.

Also throughout the garden, one can find live performances. A barrel organ belted out songs when you exit the maze (eventually as we did – after several dead ends).

And, strolling throughout, stopping to answer peoples’ questions and pose for photographs, were costumed guides.

At the “gardener’s shed”, you can buy an ice cream with a chocolate flake – a British summer speciality – before heading back along the Broad Walk to wait for the band to strike up at the Italian garden that lies immediately in front of first Duke’s greenhouse.

The photographs here are only a fraction of what we saw. We spent the entire day at Chatsworth and only scratched the surface. I don’t need a crystal ball to predict more visits in our future.


  1. Am ‘licking’ at what as a child in Australia I knew as ‘snow cream’ whilst so enjoying your beautiful photography . . . . tho’ I know many Sussex and Surrey gardens quite well, have never managed to get into the beauties of the Derbyshire countryside . . . have to slot a full day methinks into my next “Brit diary’ to do this justice . . .


    • Please add Derbyshire to your list of things to see. It really is a beautiful area, particularly the Peak District – the oldest National Park in the UK. That ice cream was a welcome break in a long hot trek from one end of the garden to the other.

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  2. When we lived in Sheffield we were frequent visitors – but that was years ago – and contemporary art didn’t feature then. Thanks for this. It’s reminded me what a special day out Chatsworth provides.


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