Downing Admired Chatsworth

During the mid nineteenth century Andrew Jackson Downing, America’s premier nineteenth century landscape gardener, admired the garden at Chatsworth, the work of head gardener Joseph Paxton (1803-1865).

Andrew Jackson Dowing

Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852)

In 1850 Downing visited England’s Chatsworth, begun in 1617. He later wrote these words: “Chatsworth, the magnificent seat of the Duke of Devonshire, has the unquestionable reputation of being the finest private country residence in the world.”

You know since you need inspiration for a garden or landscape, you sometimes borrow ideas from other gardens you have visited. In one sense it is a high form of admiration.

Downing, like any gardener, found a certain enjoyment in visiting such grand gardens as Chatsworth. They inspired his writing about the kind of home ladnscape America needed at that time, a fashion quite similar to the English garden, though adapted for the American home.

He describes the landscape of Chatsworth in detail, including  the water fountains, the rock garden, the arboretum, the greenhouses, and, of course, the lawn that gives the sense of a park to the estate.

You can still see the Chatsworth lawn in the photo here.  [below] It is a lawn that Capability Brown installed during the eighteenth century, bestowing upon it even more historical importance.

The Lawn at Chatsworth

The Lawn at Chatsworth

Downing, a New York nurseryman who wrote several books and edited the magazine The Horticulturist,  admired the English garden style.  He admitted that his writing depended on the work of English horticulturalist John Claudius Loudon, who had published a garden magazine and many books.  Loudon’s magazine also included articles written by Downing.  Loudon was probably the most influential English garden writer in the first half of the nineteenth century.

What style does your garden represent?  Who is your inspiration for your garden?

Downing admired Joseph Paxton’s English garden at Chatsworth.


Biography Depicts Humanity of Joseph Paxton

Head gardener at Chatsworth Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) assumes an important role in the history of the English garden.

He not only created new features for the Duke of Devonshire’s garden, making it one of the most famous gardens in England, but helped gardeners everywhere with his innovations in gardening under glass and his search for new plants for the garden.

Recently I finished the extraordinary biography of Paxton by Kate Colquhoun, A Thing in Disguise: The Visionary Life of Joseph Paxton.


Colquhoun won numerous awards for the book, her first. Her style of writing makes reading about Paxton in these pages most enjoyable. You feel like you are reading a novel.

Not to worry, however, because at the end of the book she gives detailed notes on her source material.

She refers to Paxton as “the greatest gardener of his time.” From his accomplishments she lists in chapter after chapter, the reader goes away in amazement that one man could do so much.

For me the central theme of the book centers on the idea that success comes, not from deeds performed however well and however many, but from a devotion and closeness to family and friends. Paxton exhibited that feature to the end of his life.  Colquhoun almost makes that kind of humanity the theme throughout the book.

One example is Paxton’s devotion to his employer the Duke for decades. Paxton had many other job opportunities as his work became more known in England. He turned them down to continue as the head gardener, and eventually, the one in charge of the estate at Chatsworth. He mourned the death of the Duke to such an extent that it made you feel that he was more than an employer.

Even while he built the Chrystal Palace and afterwards was elected to Parliament, Paxton sought to maintain a link to his own wife and children as well as his relationship with the Duke and his family.

Joseph Paxton’s greatness lies in his humanity.