22nd August 2016
What I could write about Chatsworth, the aptly named Palace of the Peaks, could easily take up all the blogs of this year, and possibly beyond - so to condense my thoughts down is a very hard thing! I have grown up visiting and coming to love Chatsworth very deeply, having holidayed in Derbyshire with my grandparents during my childhood. To me, Chatsworth is the ultimate mix of grandeur, beauty and chickens(!) The Pride and Prejudice director Jo Wright summed Chatsworth up best, in saying that 'What's impressive about Chatsworth is that it's beautiful, rather than just grand'. This blog takes stock of my most recent visit, and my two favourite aspects - the garden and the farmyard, both of which have a huge influence in my gardening and chicken-keeping flair.
Becky Crowley is the head of the cutting garden at Chatsworth. I met her when she attended the Stoke-on-Trent Literary festival at the factory, after following her on Instagram where her flair and hard gardening work, photographed during the seasons, has gained her an admiring mass of followers.
Becky has ingeniously combined attractive hardy shrubs in her cutting garden. These are not only perennially useful in arrangements but also help to give her a back bone from which the high-maintenance annual flowers can be grown around. The famous delphiniums are, in fact, ten years old! These, along with the earlier flowering rows of peonies, are two staple flowers used for the house which are in Becky's charge. At this time of year, the chicken-ark-like, white-framed greenhouses are full of Chrysanthemums, that Becky is growing to ensure home-grown blooms can be supplied to the house into the winter. The winds are bad in Stoke, but even more merciless in the peaks.
Leaving Becky staking her charges as defence from the gusts, I headed to my other favourite part of the garden known as the Conservatory garden. Here once stood a great glass conservatory, designed by Joseph Paxton; today, its flat centre is home to a great mint-green yew maze. It is quite haunting on a dull day as you enter its grip of uncertain pathways. Greeting you before it, like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, are masses of lupins. On the other side of the maze are beds of dahlias, and the jungle foliage of bananas and phoriums reigns supreme.
Facing the Orangery Shop and house exit are great borders of annual cornflowers, echium and larkspur, creating seas of lilac and blue – and resultantly, a buzz of visiting bees of seemingly every known bumble! When I was little, these were once herbaceous borders known as the orange borders, so it's quite a contrast to its former scheme.
Near to here stands Flora’s Temple. Sculpted by Caius Gabriel Cibber, Flora spent 180 years away from her original temple in the Rose Garden, moved there by the 6th Duke. She is now firmly back in her original home, where she looks her happiest.
The present 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, their Graces Stoker and Amanda Cavendish, have added much modern sculpture to the grounds, most of which changes seasonally with new exhibitions. The horse trials in the summer are world famous, and in 2017 Chatsworth will hold its first flower and garden show in partnership with the RHS. This event is already being heralded as the Chelsea Flower Show of the Midlands!
In opening the doors of Chatsworth to the public, their Graces Deborah Devonshire and Andrew Cavendish – the 11th Duchess and Duke of Devonshire – began the developmental changes that would see it become one of the United Kingdom’s best-loved stately homes.
Her Grace Deborah Devonshire created not only the kitchen garden but also the farmyard, after realising the shocking lack of awareness that both visiting teachers and school children had with farming from both rural and urban backgrounds.
The Duchess was known for her lifelong passion for keeping chickens, and kept many breeds in the garden. The most famous were the feather-legged buff Cochins. Today a trio of them is to be found still, in a grassy pen beneath the adventure playground, while smaller bantams now have the free-ranging rights of the farmyard, pecking about visitors’ legs for picnic crumbs. Chicks from the various pure breed pens of chickens, hatch out every few weeks.
Hybrid Heinz 99 brown, laying hens have a hen house that visitors can walk into. The nesting boxes are on view so that as a hen lifts herself from the shavings in a flurry, the creation of the perfect piece of work that is the egg is duly revealed to all!
From the farmyard, I returned to Stoke inspired as always with a dozen bantam hatching eggs: these are being sat on by one of the Wyandotte hens. The eggs are due to hatch next week so there will be a bit of Chatsworth origin within the hen pen here at the factory – how fabulous!
Emma and Matthew will be giving a talk at the upcoming Chatsworth art and literary festival Art Out Loud on the 23rd of September, titled “Why I own a factory instead of editing novels” - for more information and tickets visit www.chatsworth.org.
22nd August 2016