Vista lecture podcast from London several months before, and didn't want to miss this opportunity to hear him in my city. I wasn't disappointed.
It was much like reading the book, except Dan Pearson's charm quickly pervaded the smallish, book-lined room on the fifth floor of the Grolier Club, as he began to speak in a quiet, expressive voice. Quite an intimate setting; the room was crowded with only 25 or 30 in attendance, a room of perhaps 1940s vintage, a little worn around the edges, but comfortable, a reminder of simpler times past. Sounds were softened, muffled by the books lining the walls. Not at all the setting you'd expect for a talk in Manhattan.
He told us about his book, Spirit: Garden Inspiration. I had read it and commented on it here when it came out last fall, and this talk, it seemed, was a real life recapitulation of the book. Spirit is a very personal book. It begins with Dan's childhood, when he, his mother, and brother moved into an old ramshackle house literally being subsumed by an overgrown garden out of control for decades. Dan spoke about this as the early formative experience in his love of gardening - more than that, his love of landscape and of the transitory process, the inexorable moving edge, at times the balance, between the process of creation and decay. For it seems the lifespring of his work is an attempt to capture something of that moment where the past meets the future in the present, at the "still point of the turning world" to use Eliot's memorable phrase (my interpolation, not his).
The talk was not about gardening, or about Dan's work, but about the idea of inspiration engendered by sense of place. His visual presentation was a collection of photos used in the book. From the coast of Wales, to one of the most remote parts of New Zealand, from Yellowstone National Park to a derelict medieval village in Italy, the stories of visits, discoveries, favorite places, friends, and relationships flowed. Dan didn't specifically tell stories or talk about story telling, but his emphasis on sense of place implies the importance of narrative, even if unspoken and concentrated in silent, contemplative experience, as in a Japanese moss garden or the famed rock garden Ryoan-ji, for sense of place encompasses much - geography, climate, geology, biology, ecology, hydrology, history, culture, whatever is in a place - and Dan's lecture, like his book, was full of stories about his experience and his interest in understanding sense of place. Interestingly, he told us, when he visits a new country or a new place, he doesn't go immediately to see gardens there, rather he looks at landscape first.
Dan Pearson is one of the most notable garden designers working today. Strangely, he has had commissions around the world but none in the U.S. I greatly admire his work and hope that situation will soon change. You can view some of his work here at his website.
You will find a report on his lecture at the New York Botanical Garden, given earlier the same day, here.
(I should mention that the talk was arranged by Potterton Books, a fine bookshop devoted to books on art and design in the D&D building in Manhattan.)
(photo courtesy the Guardian)