Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dan Pearson Vista Lecture

Dan Pearson is an extraordinary garden designer with a deep understanding of the importance of making a garden appropriate to its site. On the latest Vista lecture podcast, he talks about some of his work in Britain, but the major focus of his talk is his work on the epic Millenium Forest project in Japan. Both areas of his work share in common a primary concern with first understanding the history, use, landscape, and ecology of a site.

You would think gardeners in the US would take more interest in what is happening in the rest of the world, but there still seem to be many barriers between gardeners on this continent and those in other countries. New ideas in British gardening are particularly interesting, both for their own work, and because our common language makes the wider world of European garden design more easily available to us through them. I don't mean to exclude Australia and New Zealand, but the vast seasonal differences there, ecological differences, and totally different plants seem to make close communication even more troublesome for Americans - except for our West Coast and other areas that share Mediterranean-like climates.

Dan Pearson has established a notable body of work you will probably take an immediate liking to if you're not already familiar with him. I hope you will take the time to listen to his Vista lecture at this link. If you open a second window, you can see images of most of the gardens he talks about on his web site. The podcast is also available for free download on the iTunes site.

The question & answer session, hosted by Vista sponsors Tim Richardson and Noel Kingsbury, is really fascinating, especially, for me, Noel Kingsbury's question about "randomized" plantings using mixtures of plants carefully selected for specific ecologies and sites, an area where the Germans and Swiss have pioneered creative approaches to highly attractive, easily maintained gardening.

Dan's book, The Garden: A Year at Home Farm, tells the story of his first large-scale garden design, which marks his emergence as one of the current masters of design in the UK. I recommend it to anyone with interest in the subject of garden design in tune with site and ecology.

By the way, Dan Pearson is the guest editor of the January issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine.


  1. Hi again James :-)

    Ah… another garden designer that we have in common! Funnily enough recently I picked up Dan’s ‘The Garden…’ book from my bookshelf and had a flick through it. I did wonder then why we don’t see him on our television screens so much now. I enjoyed listening to his laid back and passionate chat :-)

    As you will probably know this book came after the BBC series on this garden. I watched the whole thing and I particularly enjoyed his work with the pond. Ah… to have the space that you do – but yes I understand finances come into a project on that scale ;-)

    I do enjoy reminiscing when I visit your site – and dreaming about your space too. I loved your recent posting – sorry I should have left a comment. Ah… I ould chat on… pity most of my visitors see my blog mostly as a birds/wildlife one. I am a gardener first and have tried to connect the two in one blog :-D

  2. I a also a big fan of Dan Pearson.
    Thanks for the link

  3. This month's issue of GI is fantastic and also features Pearson's Japanese project. There's also a glimpse of his home's garden, which is the subject of a book due out later this year.

  4. Shirl,
    I've admired Dan Pearson's work since I first saw it (from afar) I don't remember where. I also admire his lack of pride and self-promotion. I didn't know there was a BBC series on Home Farm; we don't get any BBC programming here (perhaps satellite users get it). In fact, BBC prevents anyone in this country from viewing any of its streaming content. Not very friendly.

    I'd love a pond only half the size of the one at Home Farm, but my rocky geology would require blasting. It would cost a fortune (anyway, with the current economy, I have to save my pennies).

  5. VP,
    I'm still waiting for the January issue of GI. It gets to American subscribers about a month late. Thanks for the heads up on Dan's new book. I didn't know about it; I'll be on the look out.

  6. James: What differences do you see between the work of Pearson and that of Kingsbury and Oudolf's New Naturalism? Did you see the feature of Dan's work for Broughton Hall in issue 128 of GI. Wow!

  7. James when you get your copy of GI, you'll see it was worth the wait. So much to think about...

  8. Daniel,
    On the Pearson podcast, Noel Kingsbury and Tim Richardson asked Pearson about his use of the New Perennial approach and Oudolf's block planting in some cases, whereas he uses other approaches (minimalism, land forming...) in others. I agree that parts of Broughton Hall look very much like Oudolf. But I think Pearson uses whatever approach works best for a site; he's not committed to a particular theoretical approach, whereas Oudolf seems to be. I think of Noel Kingsbury primarily as a writer (an extraordinarily insightful and good one), not primarily as a designer. But I base that opinion on lack of available photos and descriptions of Kingsbury's work. Of course, they are all very much in the Beth Chatto tradition of putting the right plant in the right place, though this "movement" has deep historical roots and began long before Beth Chatto made it her own.

  9. addendum to Daniel:
    Forgot to mention the brief discuss on randomized planting on the podcast.

  10. Noel has a blog with occasional posts at:

    I look forward to listening to Pearson's podcast.

  11. And, thanks for the clarifications. They are helpful. So, allow me to round out the questions by asking what the main differences are between "New American" and "New Perennial". I take it that Oehme and van Sweden represent the "New American" movement. What about the Ogden's with their emphasis on looking to local ecological niches for landscape inspiration and use, as represented in _Plant-Driven Design_?

  12. Note that the "design" section of Scott and Lauren's website notes that Lauren has recently traveled in Germany and been influenced by its "new naturalism". Is this a synonym for "new perennial"?

  13. Daniel,
    I think "New Perennial" and "New American" mean pretty much the same thing. I don't make a distinction, except that "New Perennial" may be more often applied to the European movement toward use of large numbers of perennials (as opposed to more traditional plantings of perennials, annuals, and shrubs), while "New American" describes Americans doing the same thing. A lot of this movement was originally inspired by research done in Germany to determine which plants are best suited to which habitats. A very influential early work was Perennials and Their Garden Habitats by Richard Hansen and Fredreich Stahl at the Weihenstephan Institite. The book was based on decades of carefully documented research and was originally published in German. It was translated into English in the early 1990s, and is now out of print. Used copies are very expensive (mine was about $150).

    Better to read about this in Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf's work. You can find references to all this, including names of relevant books at my blog. The following address will give you all my posts referencing Kingsbury:

    As to the Ogden's "new naturalism," the Germans have always placed great emphasis on truly naturalistic plantings in which the plants are placed into the most suitable habitats. This is very different from, say, Piet Oudolf's approach, which looks very naturalistic but is, in fact, quite artificial and "unnatural." He uses large numbers of single species of plants (carefully selected for aesthetic characteristics, structure, ability to stand up to weather, etc.) and them plants them in large, extensive blocks or groups, usually with the intention that the plantings will be maintained as designed.

    All of this terminology can get a bit heavy handed. It's helpful up to a point, then can get in the way. If you're interested in exploring this further, I certainly recommend Noel Kingsbury's work as one of the best places to go.

  14. This is my first visit to your blog, and I'm very glad I came. The quality of the writing and recommendations is exceptional (as I suspect you already know). I rarely make plans to go back to the beginning of a blog and read it all the way through, but I hope to find time to do that with yours.

  15. Wild Flora,
    I'm glad to make contact. I'm very interested in native plants, though I'm not a native plant exclusivist. I try to plant appropriately to the environment, and not to do damage, but I do use non-natives with care. My garden is a wet prairie with many plants native to the US, but certainly not to my specific region (the Delaware River Valley), and with some plants from Europe and Asia (miscanthus, for example).

  16. James, I work with Dan and wanted to let you know about a series of lectures he is giving in the US in January 2010 which are, in part, to promote his new book Spirit: Garden Inspiration. The book is being distributed by DAP ( More info about the book here - His lecture dates are as follows: 19th January - Arnold Arboretum, Harvard, Boston; 21st January - Morning: New York Botanic Garden - Early evening - Potterton's bookstore, 979 Third Avenue; 23rd January - Chicago Botanic Garden. Please let me know if I can help in any way. Best wishes Huw

  17. Hwu Morgan, Thank you for letting me know about this. I'm certainly looking forward to the book, and I'm happy to learn I have two opportunities to hear Dan lecture in NYC. I will put this on my calendar. If you have additional information, please let me know.

  18. Hello there,
    does anyone know if Dan also gives lectures in Germany?

  19. If you click on the Dan Pearson link on the right of my blog, you will go to his web site, where you can ask that question.

  20. Oh, sure, sorry! Thank you for your reply. By the way, I find your blog very interesting and informative. Thanks again.



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