I almost missed Dan Pearson’s garden.
I ran into an old buddy in the Grand Pavillion at Chelsea, and he asked me what my favourite garden was, then
Ed: ‘What did you think of Dan Pearson’s garden?’.
Me: ‘What? Dan’s here? I didn’t even know he had a garden here!’
Ed: ‘It blows everything else out of the water’.
I soon found it, and it did blow everything else out of the water. The first, and most lingering impression is that you just can’t see how this garden is even possible. Great mounds of rocks – apparently artlessly placed, or at least not self-consciously artily placed – are surrounded by a bewildering array of disarmingly humble plants.
You’re totally captivated by the paradox of such a spectacularly un-showy ‘Best in Show’ Chelsea show garden, and by the phenomenal difficulty level of achieving this – a difficulty level that raises the bar by about 100% for every Chelsea garden from here on in.
Every view has a sense of the minimal plant diversity that you expect in nature, with clumps of this and that with outlying repetitive satellite-plantings of the same species, but the arrangement of the rocks allows so many view-points that an absolutely huge range of plants is included without threatening the naturalism.
The ‘feature’ plants only take up about one quarter of the plantable space, and the rest of the ground is covered with a mix of very low grasses and humble weed-like species, most of which I couldn’t identify. This was laid down like instant turf, according to a time-lapse video on rotation nearby, but in only one small spot could I detect that instant-turf effect.
Everywhere else, you simply could not see how it wasn’t grown on-site, over a long period of time. The video also showed staff meticulously tickling leaf litter and other forest detritus in amongst the grass and weeds, and in rocky crevices. Until then I hadn’t noticed it at all, which of course is exactly the intention with such stage-craft. The trick has worked when we don’t notice the trick.
The only sense in which this garden falls from total perfection is, in my opinion, the lack of spaces that my eye can enter – even if my foot can’t – and long do be in there; to dwell for a bit.
The very discerning friend I was with disagreed, and said she was dying to get in there for a walk through. And walk through you would, and straight out the other side. Or at least so it felt, though I did see some VIPs lingering in a certain point, and it was impossible to tell from the outside whether that was because the design dictated their movements, and pauses, or whether that was the point at which they felt most hidden from the huge crowds.
But the word count of the above para is disproportional to the objection. All I could think of at the time was the genius behind its conception and construction. I walked away muttering ‘Dan Pearson wows us with humility, once again.’
I hadn’t intended to rush this article out, but do so partly in response to the excellent one by Catherine Stewart on Garden Drum. Thought it was worth adding to the thoughts and images about this incredible achievement…
I travelled to Chelsea as leader of a Ross Garden Tour. Check out my facebook page here for pics of other gardens.