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Well dressing

Discover more about the well dressing tradition – re-imagined with a 'Design Revolutionaries' theme – at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

Well dressing is an age-old custom in the Peak District and Derbyshire. It is thought to date back to Roman and Celtic times, when communities would dress wells to give thanks for fresh water supplies. The tradition continues in scores of towns and villages between May and September each year, when everyone from schoolchildren to grandparents pitches in to create living arts installations made from flower petals and other natural materials.

Five well dressing entries were selected to display at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, giving visitors the opportunity to vote for their favourite. The groups worked to create beautiful designs for display at the show. Inspired by our theme of ‘Design Revolutionaries’ with local connections, the groups were:

  • Ashford Women’s Institute Well Dressing

  • Burton Closes Hall & Bakewell AJ Well Dressing

  • Buxton Well Dressing

  • Chesterfield Town Pump Group

  • Tideswell Well Dressers 

Congratulations to Burton Closes Hall & Bakewell AJ Well Dressing, whose entry (pictured above), was voted the favourite by visitors to the show.

The well dressing designs drew inspiration from the Derbyshire landscape and great innovators in design such as Sir Joseph Paxton and Lancelot ‘Capability' Brown, both of whom had a significant impact on the magnificent 1,000-acre Chatsworth Estate.

Liz Patterson, Deputy Show Manager, said: "We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response we have received from local well dressing groups. We received some really exciting designs and concepts, and can’t wait to see the finished product". 


Ashford Women’s Institute Well DressingAshford W.I. Well Dressing

A well dressing made of natural materials, including stone, shells, leaves and flower petals pressed into a bed of clay inside a wooden frame. The frame was soaked in the river for a week to help keep the clay moist and thus preserve leaves and flower petals. Inspiration was taken from designers past and present to showcase the talents of the county of Derbyshire and of the United Kingdom.
Burton Closes Hall & Bakewell A.J Well Dressing - winner of the public vote
The exhibit displayed an overall picture of the exterior of Burton Closes Hall which was surrounded with Gothic aspects of the interior design from different aspects of the home including woodwork, ceramics, plasterwork and stained glass. The work demonstrated a passionate understanding of the styling and Gothic revival movement and the important links that the hall and well dressing group have with the local community.
Buxton Well Dressing
The Buxton display showed three pictures created using traditional Well Dressing techniques with nothing but natural materials. The designs reflected the links between Chatsworth and the town of Buxton as well as the story of garden design and innovation. This was illustrated with pictures showing the Joseph Paxton Palm House at Chatsworth; the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton, (designed by Edward Milner who was Paxton's apprentice), and a modern take on the Chatsworth Rock Garden designed by Dan Pearson, which was a Gold medal-winning garden shown at the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Well dressing at ChatsworthChesterfield Town Pump Group
Chesterfield's design celebrated Joseph Paxton, who was Head Gardener at Chatsworth. The dressing showed Paxton's daughter, Annie, standing on a leaf of the giant waterlily Victoria amazonica in the Lily Pond at Chatsworth. It was the strength and internal structure of this leaf that gave Paxton the inspiration for the design of the Great Conservatory at Chatsworth and, a few years later, Crystal Palace. The flowers on the border of the well dressing were taken from the book Paxton's Flower Garden, which he co-wrote with John Lindley.
Tideswell Well Dressers
This dressing was inspired by the words "Discovery, Vision, Invention" taken from the railway wheel which is part of George Stephenson's statue at Chesterfield station. The headboard featured Robert Bakewell's wrought ironwork arbour known as 'The Birdcage', at Melbourne Hall. The main panel was of Chatsworth House and the Emperor Lake and Fountain engineered by Joseph Paxton. The left panel was part of the railway wheel from George Stephenson's statue, while the right panel depicted Paxton's Great Conservatory at Chatsworth.


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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.