THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Why Should You Buy Spirit: Garden Inspiration By Dan Pearson?
Because it is by Dan Pearson, who designs beautiful gardens and also writes so eloquently about plants…
“I like the idea of planting for longevity and find myself increasingly drawn to the idea of planting for the future. A tree will map decades if not centuries in its branches…”
We cannot help but fall for the turn of phrase ‘map decades if not centuries in its branches’… and feel an excitement bubble inside us at the thought of joining him in planting for the future too…
(Update March 2020: And now we have! 152 trees planted in 4 months, and you can plant some too by clicking here!)
The photos in ‘Spirit’ are wonderful, but it is more than just a picture book. Dan Pearson has married words to what he shows in order to share with us a new way of thinking about our landscape. Now, a book that asks us to develop a new way of thinking about our landscape is not your usual gardening book, and so we must respect its attempts to improve our gardening.
In one section of ‘Spirit: Garden Inspiration’ Dan Pearson takes us to Japan…
“The gardens were a surprise for they are far more removed from the ‘natural world’ than I had ever imagined they could be. The compositions are a stylised vision of the landscape in which the elements have been meticulously edited and juxtaposed… my own work has shifted as a result, through the removal of the extraneous and the realisation that less can reveal more.”
But it is the pages on the Hokkaido Forest House we come back to in the book again and again – the words and photos have an unsettling effect on us – which illustrates exactly why this book improves our gardening, because to be unsettled is not a bad thing at all, it forces us to expand the way we think!
“Our host had been ‘gardening’ his forest… by repeatedly cutting the bamboo, forcing it to weaken and retreat, our host revealed in its wake a forest floor, which miraculously regenerated, from a seed bank left in the soil. Over the years this quiet man had been tending his twenty acres for diversity by steering the ecology… there was no digging, no conventional gardening practise happening here. By reading the balance between the plants in the forest and through a process of editing, he had heightened the natural ecology to a point that could only be described as breathtaking. This was a light touch with a broad vision, a vision that was about being part of the environment rather than dominating it.”
What is there not to like about that section? What if the gardening media encouraged this soft, low-impact approach? Would our landscape not be so different?
One of our favourite sections of the book is JP’s Cabin – a friend of Dan Pearson’s who had acquired 5 acres of land in Connecticut. Previously the home of a naturalist, the landscape around the building had been managed to provide a habitat for birds and other wildlife.
“An old Polaroid from the mid-eighties showed the clearing around the cabin as not much more than a meadow, but over time, and to provide touch-down places for the birds, he had allowed it to be colonised by shrubs. Wild cornus and various natives selected for their droops and berries had formed islands in the meadow… The meadows and the seedling trees and shrubs amongst them have to be edited, so they are selectively cleared in the winter to break the natural succession.
This is my ideal property: a humble building with an outlying barn, which is set in an environment that invites nature right up to the front door. There is no garden to speak of, save the pumpkin patch where Native American corn and essentials are grown for the kitchen, but the land is as rich an experience as you could ever wish for.”
A garden designer who can fall in love with a place that has ‘no garden to speak of’ is a garden designer to follow – removing the design from the realm of ‘art’ and giving it a wider purpose – to create a better world for people to live in. (The irony is, of course, that gesture immediately makes the work feel ‘artful’…)
This is a video from another of the gardens in the book – Lotusland, created by opera singer Madame Ganna Walska.
“The gardens… make no concession to gardening with nature, for Walska was interested in a larger-than-life aesthetic that was operatic in its way and certainly not lacking in drama.”
This is one of the most interesting threads about the book – it is not just a paean to gardens ‘Dan Pearson loves’, or a style of gardening that he is comfortable making… but it is a capturing of what he has seen – whether he agrees with it or not, it is all noted down to be thought about and learnt from.
This is probably gardening’s biggest strength – nature will always go its own way, so it is your job to just observe it, which in turn forces you to be less judgemental and to look for the best in what is on offer. It offers an emotional education, not just a physical one.
Dan Pearson is a true plantsman – just take a look at his must-have perennials. But he is also a writer you will take a lot from – so do pick up his book Spirit: Garden Inspiration now – and open yourself up to a different way of gardening.
(You can buy it now by clicking on the picture below!)
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …
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Robinia is often forgotten – by me, actually! – when thinking of plants for topiary. But when I work on it I do love it, brittle and soft as the wood is if you climb into it. But that danger of snapping a branch with a heavy step and falling out of the tree aside, I love it for the dappled light it allows into the garden space. Robinia Near The Sea Below is a Robinia I have gently clipped over the last few years, down near Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. The tree was large when I arrived, although it is …