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  • Writer's pictureBridgette Macilwaine

The wonders of Paxton's rockery

Surrounded by these large incredible rock forms really makes you feel like a tiny ant in this stunning garden. Overflowing with plants, bees buzzing and the calm breeze in the air, transports me back to the wilderness and gomos back in Africa.

It was such an immersive place, and felt like a natural wild landscape, described by Joseph Paxton as an “imitation of the natural features of a wild and rugged scene" As mentioned on the Chatsworth website, this garden was originally built as a reminder of the Dukes visit to the Alps, and has been developed and brought to life since 2018 to restore Paxton’s extraordinary Rockery vision, adding more paths and including 1000's of new plants and trees to the rock garden.

All the small winding routes evoke an enchanted feeling – excitement and amazement along the twisting paths, with views opening as you explore the rocky spaces, not knowing what may be around the next corner, or up the rocky staircase. Finally reaching the top, standing between two large rocks, with a magnificent view over the entire rocky garden with the small lake in the middle (the Strid).


Being immersed in nature and the wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity to the human spirit”

As mentioned by Tom Stuart Smith the "Improvements will redefine the rock garden as a fantasy domain, full of variety, spontaneous naturalness and picturesque diversion, quite separate from the rest of the garden where openness, smoothness, and settled grandeur prevail"

I can’t believe that at 11am on a Friday I am actually standing in a man-made garden in the Peak district, with skilfully placed rocks, one above the other, to create this stunning rockery. The landscapes and gardens available in England never fail to surprise me! This visit to Chatsworth house and gardens, was more inspiring that I imagined it would ever be, and thinking that such a place dates back to the 1700’s.


Towering rock forms and winding informal routes create a great sense of magic in this garden

I'm not so sure that "rock garden" is the correct description for this, it's more like giant natural rockery! It was definitely my favourite area of the gardens, the huge rock piles, towering over me, with a range of textural and colourful plants popping up between the rocks, create a great sense of magic in this garden. I could wander around this area all day and never get bored.

The tall waterfall tower (below) was amazing, flanked by the huge Gunnera manicata plants, the water gently flowing down the face, moss and ferns peeping out of crevices. It is such a peaceful location to sit and rest, but then sadly not finding any benches nearby and realised we are surrounded by rocks, so you can literally sit anywhere and admire this garden.

This was especially a great time to visit as the Acers are just changing to their autumn colour, with the tinge of oranges caught in the sunshine. We will have to return soon in winter to see how different the area will look.

A few great plants to mention from this area include:

  • Ammi majus

  • Ferns such as Dryopteris

  • Actaea

  • Erigeron karvinskianus

  • Gunnera manicata

  • Hakonechloa

  • Helleborus

  • Blue geranium

  • Hostas

  • Persicaria

  • Hydrangeas

  • Grasses - Molinia, Agrostis capillaris , Seslaria

  • Acers


Want to learn more about this design, such as in February 2019, 150 large trees and shrubs were planted!

For more information and details relating to the development of this area with the team, Tom Stuart Smith and Dan Pearson, visit this page:


Until next time,

Bridge x


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