Cultivating a new era for Chatsworth gardens

Pictured is Steve Potter the new  Head of Gardens & Domain at Chatswoth House.
Pictured is Steve Potter the new Head of Gardens & Domain at Chatswoth House.

CHATSWORTH has long had a reputation as a hotbed of horticultural talent. The peerless landscape has been shaped by legendary figures including Joseph Paxton and Capability Brown.

Now a new name has been added to the illustrious list of head gardeners at the nation’s grandest stately home – and, despite being just 34, Steve Porter is clearly up to the job.

Steve began his career with the National Trust and at the age of 23 became their youngest-ever head gardener.

He arrived at Chatsworth as assistant head four years ago and since then has been learning the ropes under the guidance of Ian Webster, head of gardens and domain for nearly four decades.

Now Ian is retiring and Steve is taking over the mantle in his own right.

“It’s a great honour – particularly following the iconic achievements of the gardeners in the past, and caring for a place that so many people, both local and visitors, have a passion for,” he says.

Steve grew up on the family farm in Cambridge. The land was in his blood and at 17 he took on a three-year apprenticeship with the National Trust.

His appointment as head gardener at Glendurgan in Cornwall made the headlines because he was the first Trust trainee to achieve such heights.

But after 11 years, Steve was ready for a new challenge: “It was time to look for something a bit different and a bit more diverse.”

Chatsworth presented the perfect answer.

Since his arrival, Steve has worked closely with Ian Webster – now part-time garden curator – finding his way around the 1,000-acre park, learning about the plant collection and recording Ian’s memories.

From now on he will lead the team of 25 gardeners, carrying out routine tasks and helping with special events.

His key challenges will be to further improve standards, add more interest and work on new projects designed to increase enjoyment of the park and gardens.

For Steve, one of the best things about his job is being able to work with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, who oversee all aspects of their home and estate.

“They get involved in everything and want to take ownership. And that understanding and connection allows scope for all sorts of ideas to be put forward and considered.”

Many areas of the garden have been changed or restored in recent years and Steve aims to consolidate that work before moving on.

It’s a lengthy process, he says, but the prospect does not daunt him: “The great thing about Chatsworth is we’ve got the lot!

“There’s always going to be new challenges and things to develop here and I’m up for it. It certainly feels like a job for life.”

Fortunately, Steve’s family have taken to their new home as enthusiastically as he has.

Now settled in an estate house at Beeley, wife Sarah is clerk to the parish council and a governor of Pilsley School, where children Oscar and Annabelle are pupils.

Younger sister Phoebe will join them in due course, along with the newest member of the family, Theo, who was born just seven weeks ago.