Chatsworth was our first placement as part of the triad fellowship whilst based at Hidcote.  Firstly, a thank you to the staff, who were warm and friendly and looked after us well.  They were marvelous at interpreting the garden to us, sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm, whilst allowing us to work alongside them.  After an interesting introductory tour shrouded in an atmospheric mist, we spent time with the conservatory and greenhouse department.

We were shown the collections being produced for garden and house display.  The vine house was first.  This is a time consuming and specialist skill.  Getting the substrate right in the raised beds for the Muscot Alexander variety requires expertise.  Other practices include spur pruning, bark scraping and sterilizing, biocontrol, environmental control, structure and framework creation, pinching and stopping, and thinning.  The knowledge of plant energy flows is vital, as is selection of stems, flowers, and fruits.

The Case is a 91 metres long Paxton glasshouse that protects figs, peaches, nectarines, apricots and various shrubs.  The cultivation techniques for the wall trained fruit trees was interesting.  I particularly liked pollination with a rabbit tail.  Cascade and Charman chrysanthemums were trained into ornamental shapes.  Knowledge of the plants’ responses to day length and light levels is required to create these displays.

We worked within the tropical display glasshouse in the afternoon.  The display glasshouse has 3 three climatic zones: tropical, Mediterranean and temperate.  I found the conservatories to have interesting depths: small but varied collection of plants with fascinating idiosyncrasies.

The provision of growing conditions different from the surrounding climate, curating exotic plants, and creating layered diverse plantings interests me.  The exuberant and luxuriant nature of the tropical biome particularly.  One of the most interesting plants was the Musa acuminata ‘Dwarf Cavendish’. This was imported from Mauritius in 1829.  This is the parent plant of the majority of bananas grown commercially around the world.  It has no sexual reproduction, its success stemming from its resistance to Panama disease.  Also of note was the water-lily, Victoria amazonica.  Grown annually, this was originally brought back by Paxton from Kew Gardens.

On the second day we worked with the outdoor garden team.  We were kindly allowed to turn on some of the water features of the garden, notably the emperor fountain using the original valves.  We then did some hedge cutting around the perimeter of maze garden.  We were then taken on a lovely walk of the arboretum and pinetum, having projects and features explained.

The next day we were in the cutting garden.  The siting of the garden is interesting being placed high up on the hill overlooking the house.  The garden has a lovely aspect, and some beautiful glasshouse structures, frames and walled terraces.  Water again is an important feature, flowing through the garden in rills.  Some of the soil is alluvial from previous landscaping.  It has good drainage, enhanced by the slope and the influence of wind.  The garden is a good example of how microclimate varies at many scales, and also the importance of control of moisture levels.

The size of the plots is impressive, and the cut flowers are radiant.  Cut flowers do interest me.  They have aesthetical beauty in situ, then form different creative displays post cutting.  They are functional being able to be sold to the public, and exciting as new varieties can be trialed amongst firm favourites.   We helped to plant hardy annual and biennials.

The fourth day I chose to work with the indoor display team and then in the vegetable garden.  The indoor display team creates displays for the house, both in the public and private wings.  They also manage cut flower displays for the house, events, and for orders for sale.  The house is a magnificent theatre in which to showcase plants.  However, it is not an ideal growing environment having low natural light levels, and being subject to the drying nature of central heating.

It is the contradictions of these displays which I find appealing.  The plants are shown on a glorious stage, but their fame is temporary.  Some may be only able to be used once, whereas others need to be nursed back to health once their performance is over.  The scale, organization required, plant cultivation, selection, and knowledge of the house microclimate impressed.  I suppose it makes me think of horticulture and its relation with time.  The temporary resplendence of these displays set amongst the stoic and long standing house, within a lasting landscape of large specimen trees still maturing is compelling.

The vegetable plots have lovely glasshouse facilities, polytunnel, and cold frames.  This extends the seasons and allows tender plants to be grown.  Food is produced for the house and for the estate farm shop.  I liked the radial plantings around fruit trees particularly.

The vegetable plot has a building that can be used for events or engagement activities.  Chatsworth has a long history of education and training of students and apprentices.  Having met a previous head gardener who reminded me of the importance of replenishing skills in the industry, this investment in future gardeners was made more pertinent.

I helped with harvesting for the kitchen, and tying in a lovely climbing rose that is grown along a large old chain draped the length of the kitchen garden.  Sometimes climbing structures can be a little generic.  The chain was a reminder of the variety of forms that structures can take, and also of the importance of using materials of character that have an innate connection with the landscape.

Again many thanks to the staff at Chatsworth for a fantastic experience, and to the fellowship for the opportunity.

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