Monday, October 05, 2009

Dan Pearson's Spirit: Garden Inspiration

I've been waiting for Dan Pearson's new book since I first heard about it several months ago. What a surprise!

Dan, just about every one's favorite garden designer for the moment, has written a highly collaborative new book that has almost nothing to say about garden design. At least not directly. It is a beautifully produced book ... not a flashy coffee table tome, but a piece of fine, understated craftsmanship. The medium is the message, so to speak.

The book is about the source of inspiration for gardens ... a very romantic notion ... in sense of place. It's a book of stories, tellings of visits to particular people in particular places, bits of autobiography with emotional background - a book about feeling, sensitivity to place, memories, things learned.

I had anticipated not a "how to" of garden design, but a book about Dan's gardens (and I'd still love to see that book). But this one is so much finer for its difference from the expected. Spirit is quite Japanese in its method. It points a direction, like a finger lifted in silence, then leaves it to the reader to make the connections.

It's also an enjoyable read, one for contemplative moments, quiet times, but, surprisingly, it moves the reader along quickly, from story to story (who doesn't like a book of short, image strewn stories?).

If I may quote, since Dan gets the point across so well:

"Those gardens that use nature for their romantic gain, but strike that delicate balance between it being invited in and not quite having the upper hand are always in the balance. The most romantic moments at Painshill are those on the edge of being lost, the entwined stones in Nunhead Cemetery are the places with the most resonance. It is in this balance that I find the most evocative moments, the points where the magic occurs. I suspect that the ephemeral nature of these interludes is the greater part of their appeal, and for me, trying to capture them is part of the art of garden making."

If you want to know more about the stories of Painshill and Nunhead Cemetery, go get the book. It's finally out.

I understand from one of his associates that Dan Pearson will be coming to the US to lecture in January. He'll be at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston on January 19, at the New York Botanic Garden the morning of January 21, at Potterton's bookstore, 979 Third Avenue in New York in the early evening of the 21st, and the Chicago Botanic Garden on January 23. Perhaps his web site will provide details before January.


  1. Do go if you get the chance. I went to see him at the Hay Literature Festival in May, when he talked about this book, so I suspect it'll be a similar speech he'll give in the US :D

    A fascinating insight.

  2. VP - I definitely plan to go. I'm looking forward to it. I've been enjoying your pieces on public plantings.

  3. Sounds like a unique and intriguing book. Thanks for the insightful review - I've been a fan of your blog for a little while now and always enjoy your posts.

  4. GW - Thank you for the comment. I'm grateful because it led me to your blog. What a dream ... to be able to be in Europe for a prolonged period with the leisure to explore gardens. I'll enjoy catching up with your garden visits.

  5. For those who appreciate gardens storytelling is an after effect of garden design. If a garden fits in the landscape our eyes recognize the harmonies and contrasts. Pearson's book is appropriately titled and I plan on reading it based on your review. P.S. The autumn perfume of Katsura trees is beautifully described by Dan Pearson in the 10/11 issue of The Observer UK:

  6. Michelle,

    Yes, I just happened to read his piece. Scent is one of the invisible joys of gardens. And thanks for the comment, which led me to your amazing blog!

  7. Thank you, James. I've added your blog to my list of favorites on Glass Petal Smoke. I look forward to reading future posts on your site. The photographs are beautiful!



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