Chatsworth conjures up images of immense grandeur on a mind-shatteringly huge scale! The reality doesn’t disappoint! It is the most opulent and impressive pile of yellow bricks in the countryside I have ever seen! The drive through the parkland fronted by the River Derwent is breathtaking, and as the house comes into view among the rolling hills, it is obvious that this was a property designed to impress right from the start.
Home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, I visited the property with colleagues from Polesden Lacey’s team for inspiration and ideas to take back to the National Trust.
The entire 105 acre garden is stunning, yet I walked straight past the 300 year old water cascade, right past Joseph Paxton’s world-famous greenhouses, ignored the historic maze and headed straight for the Duke of Devonshire’s larder itself….the kitchen garden.
The kitchen garden covers two and half acres on a west facing slope and was previously the horses’ paddock. It now overlooks the impressive clock tower and stables that currently house the restaurant where most of the produce from this garden end up.
These gardens aren’t as old as you would expect. They were constructed over a three year period in 1991. The original walled garden is some distance down the road, near where Chatsworth's famous head gardener, Joseph Paxton lived.
The kitchen garden contains four greenhouses that have now been restored and houses glamorous, luxuriant and exotic fruit that befits such an impressive setting such as citrus, paw-paws, melons, kiwifruits and dessert grapes. The original pipe work and pulley vent-system still work on them. There are also the most sumptuous array of cold frames
There is a stream that runs through the kitchen garden where the water is collected, filtered, bottled and sold in the shop. Gardeners can dip their watering can into the stream and water the vegetables without having to worry about hosepipes and taps. Water cress grows in abundance throughout the water course too.
As well as some of the more traditional stalwarts of the veg garden such as cabbages, leeks, carrots etc, there are some of the more gourmet types of crop such as sea kale, cape gooseberries, chicory and cool looking pointy cabbages called ‘Hispi’
I loved the amazing Mummy pea – the origins of this variety allegedly date back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs – dried peas were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 and were bought back to England where they germinated. It is a very tall pea (up to 14ft) and is a prolific cropper, producing peas from late June through to September.
They also have a hardy heirloom, perennial sprouting broccoli called ‘Nine Star’ that produces white curds each spring (provided it is harvested before it goes to seed). Perfect if you are the type of person that forgets to sow your purple-sprouting broccoli each year.
Among all this opulence and sophistication at Chatsworth, there was a Guinea Pig Village, which some members of staff felt was the highlight of the cultural visit...err...