6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Surrey Life today click here

Garden designer Dan Pearson on ‘natural selection’, RHS Garden Wisley and a year in the garden

PUBLISHED: 23:55 23 May 2017 | UPDATED: 00:08 24 May 2017

Garden designer Dan Pearson learnt the tricks of the gardening trade at RHS Garden Wisley

Garden designer Dan Pearson learnt the tricks of the gardening trade at RHS Garden Wisley

Archant

With a decade of gardening journalism and a host of award-winning landscape designs to his name, Dan Pearson’s latest book is chock-full of insights gained from a successful career at the forefront of global horticulture, which began at the sprawling RHS Garden Wisley

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2017

***

Dan Pearson’s horticultural career has seen him tend to gardens across the globe, from Jerusalem to Japan, but when it comes to picking a favourite country in which to pursue his passion for planting, there’s nowhere quite like the green, green grass of home.

“Not many countries are lucky like we are in Britain,” the 52-year-old explains. “We have a very benign climate ultimately, despite the fact that it is a cloudy climate. We’re able to garden nearly every week of the year if we want to in this country. There are very few weeks that are locked down badly with freeze or they are so wet that we actually can’t get onto the ground. If you go somewhere in the Mediterranean, it is often too hot in the summer and things dry out to the point where they are not growing. In North America you have whole months of the winter closed down because it is too cold and it freezes, but in Britain there is not one period of inactivity or inertia.”

Indeed, Pearson’s career as both a landscape designer and a journalist has seen him forge strong links with some of Britain’s oldest and most prestigious institutions, such as Kew Gardens, The Guardian and the Chelsea Flower Show. But his journey began when, at the tender age of 17, Pearson got his parents’ blessing to drop out of school and take up an apprenticeship at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley.

“Wisley at that point was just a cornucopia of information and experience for me,” he recalls. “It had – and still has – some amazing and committed gardeners working there. And because it was an apprenticeship scheme you were working right alongside them, and that’s often the best way of learning something; to get that physical, practical experience on a day-to-day basis. For me it was a wonderful experience, to be able to talk to people who had been in the subject for 30, 40 or 50 years like that, and to learn from them.”

Pearson’s training at Wisley continues to influence his work, not just in the garden, but as a writer as well.

“I think one of the things I learned there was if you start something, finishing it is a really important part of the process, and to finish something thoroughly and correctly,” he explains. “I think it’s the same with writing. You kind of need to have a map of where you are going before you start, or when you start you need to write a road-map. You need to have the idea, know where you are going, and a sense of where you need to end up. So, for me, the writing is very similar to the way you might approach a gardening day – it’s terribly easy in a garden to go out and find you’ve got four jobs on the go because you’ve got distracted. Then you might only finish one of them – and actually that’s not a good way of working. It’s best to be focused.”

Comprised of hand-picked pieces of Pearson’s written musings from the last decade, his new book Natural Selection, out this month, tracks the rhythms of a year in a typical British garden.

“I think what is interesting about Natural Selection is that we’ve put together the best of those pieces from the last 10 years and arranged them in an order which falls sequentially throughout the year,” he says. “It feels natural because we have spring, summer, autumn and winter represented in the pieces.”

With Natural Selection marking a neat milestone in his life, Pearson believes it is high time to take stock of the profession he has dedicated himself to since his teenage years. After all, he says, the study of plants is becoming more and more crucial in a world plagued by pollution and climate change issues.

“I think horticultural people and people who are dealing with plants and landscapes have an enormous amount to offer this changing world,” he agrees, “because the act of gardening is inherently something that has to be an act of adaptability, enterprise and initiative. I think our modern world is one that will need those skills and that experience, so I think that horticulture has an enormous amount to give back to a world that needs this connection with greenery and things that you eat, knowing where your food comes from, and knowing how to go about growing it while still preserving space.”

Further to this, the heightened focus on the merits of horticulture in an increasingly mechanised world is more proof, if needed, that RHS gardens like Wisley provide a valuable role in the education of future generations of gardeners.

“Because they’re all also teaching establishments in terms of offering career development for students, they have a life of their own with the people who move through them,” Pearson says. “That means the gardens are never static; they are always changing and always adapting. It’s so important for them to always have that energy they gain through having a flow of new students constantly coming and going.”

Pearson still sees the pay offered for gardeners as a stumbling block in the appreciation of the vocation as a career. His own journey from a passionate teenager with no real role models (“at that point gardening on television was definitely pitched at an older audience,” he says) to finding his calling at RHS Wisley, however, should remain an inspiration for those seeking to emulate his worldwide exploits in the industry.

For someone with fingers perpetually as green as the grass in his garden, one wonders: what type of flower would best suit Pearson’s personality?

“Oh, goodness, that’s a really difficult question,” he laughs. “It probably changes year to year, to be honest. But I think it’s probably a climber; something that wants to get into a good place and will find a way of doing it somehow!”

***

Natural Selection: A Year in the Garden by Dan Pearson is published by Faber & Faber. RRP £20.

***

Discover 25 of the best secret gardens to visit in Surrey

The big 5 gardens for spring days out in Surrey

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Surrey visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Surrey staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Surrey account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Surrey Life

Yesterday, 15:06

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Yesterday, 14:08

From riverside retreats to secret gardens, we’ve got your summer covered with this selection of Surrey pubs that are perfect to enjoy your favourite tipple and a bite to eat in the sunshine

Read more
Wed, 15:41

The Bike Project Surrey, which refurbishes donated bikes and sells them to the local community, has received funding from the Charles Russell Speechlys Community Fund

Read more
Wed, 14:47

We talked to chief audiologist at The Tinnitus Clinic, Mark Williams, who discussed causes, symptoms and treatments for tinnitus and hearing loss. Here’s what to do if you have ringing in your ears

Read more
Tue, 16:12

Reading, writing… and fire-lighting? More and more children across the UK are being taken out of the classroom to be taught in the great outdoors, writes Amy Noton

Read more
Tue, 10:51

Based in Ockley, Louise Dunckley finds artistic inspiration in her local surroundings. Her illustrations of Surrey’s villages, towns and landmarks capture beautifully the qualities of this fine county. Tinx Newton chatted with her about her work and being chosen to produce prints to commemorate the Surrey Hills AONB’s 60th anniversary

Read more

Famous for its park and royal connections, and recently named one of the best places in the UK to live, there’s plenty to uncover in this riverside town

Read more
Mon, 11:52

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend: art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Friday, May 18, 2018

This month we launch our annual photography competition, sponsored by Portmore Dental. The winners will be featured in our 2019 Beautiful Surrey calendar. Here are some inspirational shots submitted over the last month, alongside details of this year’s prizes and how to enter

Read more
Friday, May 18, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Thursday, May 17, 2018

This edition of Surrey Life features all the local ingredients to make this month special

Read more
Thursday, May 17, 2018

As well as viewing all the new and vibrant show content first, there’s plenty to do at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show Preview Evening on Monday 2 July from 5pm to 10.30pm.

Read more
Thursday, May 17, 2018

We are offering one lucky winner the chance to win a pair of tickets to see Fanfare and Fireworks with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra at Hampton Court Palace

Read more
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Whilst watching the high (or ‘low’ depending upon your perspective) lights of yet another Donald Trump press conference, my mind skipped back to when I was around five or six years old and my favourite toy was Action Man.

Read more
 
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Surrey's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Property Search