A day in the life of a Chatsworth gardener

As we stay home, many of us are turning our attention to our gardens. Rosanna Morris asked Steve Porter, head of gardens and landscape at Chatsworth, to reflect on a planting day last year

A gardener at Chatsworth planting and maintaining the gardens

“It’s 7.30am and I leave the house to head to work. I live in a cottage on the Chatsworth estate and only have to travel a couple of miles. It is in one of the villages on the southern end of the grounds, so as I drive through I get the first glimpses of Chatsworth House from a distance. The parkland is wonderful, especially at this time of year with all the promising new growth, the trees are coming into leaf and the grass is putting on its first flush. I have to slow down for some lambs on the road. The setting is one of my favourite things about my job.

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Chatsworth estate and gardens
The garden development project at Chatsworth is the biggest project seen in the historic property’s gardens for two centuries.

I’m in charge of the parkland, woodland and gardens, from the glasshouses to the hedgerows, and I spend a lot of my time liaising with and organising the teams, making sure everything is moving forward, as well as planning and co-ordinating contractors on site. Today, however, is a little bit different and I can’t wait to get started – it is planting day and it’s all hands on deck. It’s a sunny day, which is just what we need.

We’re in the midst of a garden development project to redevelop areas of the garden, the biggest project for 200 years that will see 25 acres of the garden altered and improved. The current Duke and Duchess are passionate about the garden and are closely involved with planting decisions and developments.

More plants go into the ground at the base of a tree
More plants go into the ground at the base of a tree

We’re working with garden designers Dan Pearson and Tom Stuart-Smith. Tom is overseeing several areas and it is his huge Arcadia project that we’re planting today. At 8am, Tom arrives and so too do the Duke and Duchess, who are also helping with the planting. We join the other gardeners (there are 25) and a group of volunteers.

The Duke and Duchess are passionate about the garden and are closely involved with planting decisions and developments.
Steve Porter, Head of Gardens at Chatsworth

We’ve been prepping the beds in anticipation for today. We’re planning to get the best part of 50,000 plants in the ground this season. It will take us a week or more to plant 25,000 plants in Arcadia, a 15-acre woodland area that Tom wants to turn into a wonderful, colourful and romantic garden, opened up with new pathways and meadow-like glades. We’re underplanting the trees with woodland and wetland plants, including gunnera, royal ferns, viburnum and daphne. We’re planting everything in phases but there will eventually be around 100,000 plants.

Steve Porter, head of gardens at Chatsworth House.
Steve Porter, head of gardens at Chatsworth House.

Tom takes the lead and directs us where to place and plant everything in the spaces he wants them to go – he has a vision, right down to how many inches are needed between the plants. It’s really fun. It’s great to be a part of the planting and we get a lot done.

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By the end of the day, we start talking about what Tom plans for tomorrow. We’ve been working pretty much non-stop to make the most of the good weather and, at 6pm, we down tools and head home. We will spend the next few weeks weeding and tending all the new plants.”