Through the glass wall

The first camel­lias brought to Chatsworth two cen­turies ago be­gan a fine col­lec­tion that, to this day, is still cul­ti­vated within the old glasshouses, finds Jacky Hobbs

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Pho­to­graphs by Clive Ni­chols

Chatsworth House camel­lias, Chatsworth, Bakewell, Der­byshire

Chatsworth’s in­ter­wo­ven tapestry of an­ces­try and ar­chi­tec­ture is as ev­i­dent in the gar­dens as it is in the house. Between them, suc­ces­sive Dukes cre­ated state-of-the-art heated glasshouses to ex­hibit waves of ex­otic new plants com­ing from dis­tant lands. they in­cluded, al­most 200 years ago, a col­lec­tion of camel­lias. the orig­i­nal spec­i­mens have per­ished, but their di­rect de­scen­dants, to­gether with 150 dif­fer­ent species and cul­ti­vars, con­tinue to oc­cupy their orig­i­nal, sur­viv­ing glasshouses.

the ma­jor­ity of the cur­rent camel­lia col­lec­tion is planted in the First Duke’s Green­house, the orig­i­nal clas­si­cal stone and glass ‘or­angerie’ com­mis­sioned by the 1st Duke of Devon­shire in 1697 and now re­garded as one of the most im­por­tant sur­viv­ing 17th­cen­tury glasshouses in Eng­land. It was orig­i­nally built with twin wings, arched win­dows and a solid roof to house ten­der Con­ti­nen­tal cit­rus-fruit trees and myr­tles. af­ter its re­lo­ca­tion in 1749, the frontage was fur­ther em­bel­lished, with 12 17th-cen­tury busts re­claimed from Chatsworth house court­yard in 1824, where­upon it was trans­formed into a de­voted camel­lia house.

Joseph Pax­ton (1803–65), ap­pointed head gar­dener at Chatsworth in 1826, added his trade­mark ‘ridge­and-fur­row’ glass roof to op­ti­mise light and heat lev­els for the ev­er­in­creas­ing va­ri­eties of camel­lias col­lected so avidly by the 6th Duke (1790–1858). Dur­ing this era, Chatsworth ac­counts show de­tails of camel­lia pur­chases dat­ing back to 1831.

More than 50 named va­ri­eties were recorded by 1845 and in­cluded Camel­lia japon­ica, C. retic­u­lata and C. sasan­qua species to­gether with many early cul­ti­vars. at the time, such Far East­ern nov­el­ties, feared to be ten­der, were en­cased in glass and heated in the colder months to pro­tect against Chatsworth’s of­ten chilly, northerly climate.

Pax­ton was re­spon­si­ble for the build­ing of Chatsworth’s mon­u­men­tal horticultural glasshouses, most fa­mously the Great Con­ser­va­tory (1840–1920), which housed a jun­gle of enor­mous ex­otics and trop­i­cal palms brought back from plan­thunt­ing ex­pe­di­tions to the amer­i­cas and the East.

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