DP Wows with Humility, Once Again

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.

The one and only spot where you could detect the edge of the mat of grass, which I show not to point out a weakness, but to give you some idea how it’s done, and how thin it is

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.

Wild strawberry and lily-of-the-valley 'planted' into cracks between rocks, along with carefully placed leaf-litter
Wild strawberry and lily-of-the-valley ‘planted’ into cracks between rocks, along with carefully placed leaf-litter

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 creeping dogwood, Cornus canadensis, nestled into crevices of rock
The creeping dogwood, Cornus canadensis, nestled into crevices in the rock

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.

Mahonia eurybracteata, which I'd seen for the first time at Wisley, the day before, and now greeted like an old friend
Mahonia eurybracteata, which I’d seen for the first time at Wisley the day before, and now greeted like an old friend

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.’

Teasels, both old seed-heads and bolting rosettes, just as you often see them in the wild
Teasels, both old seed-heads and bolting rosettes, just as you often see them in the wild

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.


  1. Just adore the unshowiness. The man’s a genius.

  2. Thanks for one of the clearest explanations of the garden I’ve read. I’m going tomorrow.

    1. Looking forward to reading your thoughts James

  3. Totally agree with James G. above Michael – clear analysis of Dan’s concept and execution balanced by a description that makes me want to jump in a plane as I write. Thank you!

  4. Thank you for this blog Michael. Dan Pearson’s garden is beyond beautiful.

  5. Well this has shifted the paradigm of Chelsea.
    After years of sterile human centric outdoor rooms that frankly never wooed nor wowed me I can finally sigh in a chelsea construct and feel like I could escape from the madding crowd if I could just jump the barrier and lie on the grass. Maybe I might see a blue tit…………. ooohhh sorry they are on the other side of the fence.

    Dan has melted the line tween garden and nature. Nature is a garden and a garden is nature but very often we are so busy manipulating , managing and interfering we ignore the fact that natures outcome is far more graceful, subtle and , dare I say sustainable.
    Are there superlatives for genius and hero? but Dan is also a down right honest humble being . There would have been every chance that this garden would have been shunned by the public and officials alike at Chelsea but Dan has carried his concept to perfection and that is awesome

    Also notice how Chelsea didn’t even reach our media this year . Charlie Albone won a silver gilt and was our only entrant this year.

    1. To pick up on a very minor point here, one of the curious things about this garden was that there wasn’t any barrier around the edges. And it was all so unshowy, you could potentially walk past it without realising it was one of the garden design entries, let alone the winner of best-in-show.

      And it’ll be interesting to see if it does shift any paradigms.

      I’m also interested in the question of whether it takes someone as ‘big time’ as Dan to get away with doing something this humble. It’s kind of the equivalent of Brad Pitt growing a patchy beard and long, greasy hair. Brad’s so confident of his status that he can treat his looks with virtual contempt without any danger of losing face.

      There was never any chance of a garden by Dan Pearson being overlooked at Chelsea, and its inherent modesty only serves (though I’m sure this was not his intent) to elevate the guru-quality that hovers around him. Surely no ‘unknown’ would have the confidence to do anything so apparently self-effacing.

  6. Wot no fire pit? No big screen TV? No ‘Pavilion’?
    Goodness it’s a lovely garden but is there a link to the video that shows the garden coming together? It would be great to see..

    1. There’s quite a bit of video material on the Chatsworth site, Penny, and some on the RHS site, but neither shows the time-lapse that was available at the show

    2. Hi Penny and Michael

      If you google ‘The Laurent-Perriere Chatsworth Garden’ and then choose videos you will see a series of you tube videos..I think there are 8 or 10 short episodes that take you right through the creation of the garden including I think a time lapse one..

  7. It seems I am emotionally stunted. I keep scrolling through these photos again and again trying to feel moved, involved….anything…about this garden. I think Dan Pearson is a genius, and one of the UK’s top designers but I just can’t see what you are all seeing. Maybe I need a pair of champagne-coloured glasses…..

    1. It’s Chelsea, Catherine, so imbibe a Pimm’s or three and take another look..

  8. A supremely crafted garden that still manages to calm and comfort- even in pictures. I can only imagine the effect when standing next to it, yes, Cathy, the urge to breach the barrier would be difficult to suppress.. Is anyone able to tell me the name of the shrub hovering over the narcissus?

    1. The shrub hovering over the narcissus is Enkianthus campanulatus, Lee. Grows well in cool climates here eg Dandenongs, Southern Highlands of NSW

  9. Thanks for sharing such a nice information regarding Lawn care with us. Fantastic writing skills. I appreciate this blog.

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