Chatsworth House Gardens

By Julie Kilpatrick

In an attempt to cure my dog, Garry, of his travel sickness, I took him with me on a three-day road trip to visit some gardens. Chatsworth made it onto the list not just because it is one of the most famous gardens in Britain, not necessarily because part of the gardens were designed by Capability Brown but because, unlike many gardens open to the public, it's actually okay to bring your dog.

As I approached the estate and got my first glimpse of the house, the size of it and the sheer decadence of Chatsworth took my breath away. I couldn't help smiling to myself when I imagined former owner of Chatsworth and fourth duke of Devonshire turning in his grave as I joined the hoards of other commoners milling around the entrance to the gardens sucking on ice cream.

It was the fourth duke who famously had the village of Edensor pulled down because it offended his view but you get none of that attitude from the Chatsworth of today. Chatsworth is surprisingly laid back and a great place to take the kids. The surrounding park land is free to enter and you can roam around at your hearts content but you have to pay to get into the gardens and quite rightly so. Once in there, though, there is a notable lack of roped-off areas and keep off the grass signs and everywhere there are families making themselves at home, picnicking on the grass. You can even get your shoes and socks off and wade into the Great Cascade - seemed like a bit of a health and safety nightmare to me but nobody seemed to care as kids and adults alike negotiated the treacherously slippery steps in the cascade and I kind of liked that approach.

I know all garden designers are supposed to look on Capability Brown as some sort of god but it's the work of his successor at Chatsworth, Joseph Paxton, that really impressed me. The rockery is exactly as a rockery should be - massive great rocks expertly placed so that they look like they've been there all along and some really nice planting round about. The Emperor Fountain in the canal pond is also one of Paxton's creations.

I almost missed the willow tree fountain but for the fact that Garry, who loves children, all but pulled me off my feet in an effort to get to the source of the sound of children's laughter. Made of copper and brass, the original fountain, created in 1693, was designed to randomly squirt water at unsuspecting visitors as they paused to admire it. Paxton built a replacement willow tree fountain when the original fell into disrepair and moved it to its current location, hidden away in a glade in his rock garden.

Paxton was responsible too for the building of the largest glasshouse in the world at the time. The Great Conservatory no longer exists but, in its place is Chatsworth's maze which you can't afford to miss. For some reason I thought that having a dog with me might be an advantage in finding my way around the maze but Garry was equally as lost as I was and, after bumping into the same people over and over again for around twenty minutes, I had to admit the maze had me beat until a couple of boys offered to show me the way. It was great fun all the same and, though you couldn't see much behind the tall hedges, all I could hear was people laughing. The maze was built in 1962 but based on an earlier design.

Another relatively new addition to Chatsworth's garden is the Serpentine Hedge built in 1953 and a really nice twist on the traditional avenue, leading to a feature beyond. In this case, the feature is the Ring Pond and a bust of the 6th Duke. Almost bang up to date is Revelation, designed by Angela Conner and built in 1999. Like all the fountains at Chatsworth, it is gravity fed and, like the Willow Tree Fountain, easy to miss, surrounded as it is by trees.

Also new is the cottage garden, the kitchen garden and the sensory garden and this is what makes Chatsworth such a must-see garden. You get to go on a journey through many of the elements of garden design through the centuries as well as having a thoroughly good time. I definitely recommend it for a family fun day out and everyone should enjoy it, even if they're not all that into gardening. Even Garry enjoyed it and he doesn't know a rose from a daisy.

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