Grow with the Pros: Chatsworth Cutting Garden

This is Part 2 of my look at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. The first post, which you can see here, looked at the history of the estate, in particular the kitchen garden, and I heard from Glenn Facer and Stefan Homerski, experts when it comes to vegetables and herbs respectively. Here we focus on the Chatsworth cutting garden and speak to Sophie Bromley, who manages the garden

Over in the Chatsworth cutting garden, there are around 90 beds over one acre, where the gardeners work along with the florists to deliver seasonal blooms to the house. Some plants are grown year-on-year as they are some of the Duke and Duchess’s favourite, while other selections change as fashion or tastes develop or improved varieties are sourced.

Cutting garden in bloom ©Mick Brown

To ensure beautiful flowers throughout the year the gardeners take advantage of bulbs, corms, biennials, hardy annuals, half-hardy annuals and shrubs. Some 25 of the beds are dedicated to biennials and annuals, with the remaining filled with a dazzling selection of perennials and shrubs. While the perennials are mostly brought in, all the annuals and biennials are grown from seed in one of Chatsworth’s two greenhouses.

Sophie has been at Chatsworth for two years and is now the cut flower grower carrying the torch on from Becky Crowley, who developed the cutting garden and temporarily spends her time away from Derbyshire in America working on the famous Floret Farm in Washington.

Sophie Bromley ©Mick Brown

The variety of the work in the cutting garden is something that Sophie adores, along with being able to grow sustainably and choosing plants that are good for wildlife and pollinators.

“My favourite crops are those annuals that just keep flowering and flowering. Sometimes across different seasons like snapdragons, Malope and Rudbekia,” she confesses. 

“I also love flowers that can be preserved and dried such as, helichrysum, Craspedia and safflower. Also, flowers that have dual purpose, that can be cut and used in a vase or used for dying material. Plants like Iris, poppies, tulips and dahlia are all good in this respect.”

Tulips in the cutting garden ©Mick Brown

Sophie’s words of advice to other flower growers is to not get too disheartened by failures, admitting that Anemone coronaria has proved particular headaches recently, potentially due to the heat in the glasshouse. However, gardeners need to learn these nuances in order to grow better plants down the line – so people shouldn’t give up too easily.

“Like any crop, I will get to learn and know it better the more I grow it. With what I’ve learnt I’m hoping to grow a more prolific and healthier crop next time around.”

And there are always new things to learn and new plants to try, with Sophie highlighting the recent experiment in the cutting garden to grow arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) as a cutting crop.

“We have them in the greenhouse and they produced some really long sturdy tubular flowers. We will also have an outdoor crop later in the year which will flower from May onwards.

“They like moisture, often being grown as a marginal plant. They benefit from regular liquid feeds when grown in containers and add a fresh unique feeling to spring/summer bouquets. We are already looking forward to growing a more substantial crop of them next year.”

Sophie admits having greenhouses are really advantageous and offer a wealth of opportunities in the cutting garden to play with more exotic plants and tinker with seasonality of blooms

“The glasshouses are a great resource to help us grow heat loving flowers and to force the ‘bloom time’ of certain crops. Forcing can bring the flowering time of these plants forward by anywhere up to 2 months.”

Flowers under glass ©Mick Brown

Finally, the gardens at Chatsworth are grown to organic principles, with no chemicals to deal with pests or weeds. Through thorough Integrated Pest Management practices and cultural methods, such as companion planting, mulching and using no-dig techniques, it all contributes to prevent problems with pests and diseases.

Sophie offers this advice to other flower growers: “I find the best way to grow a successful crop is to make sure I plant strong, healthy seedlings in the first place. 

“This way the plant has the best chance of avoiding attacks from pests and is able to out compete the weeds. 

“In addition to this I feed bi-weekly all annuals and a selection of perennials such as roses and Phlox which are prone to various attacks, with seaweed/balanced liquid feed.”

Chatsworth House is located near to Bakewell in the Peak District in Derbyshire. The gardens are currently open and visitors must book timed tickets online via their website, which you can visit here

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