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…
The photos 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, instead of earning their money by hard landscaping front gardens?
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!)
I will be bringing a show about gardening to the Faversham Fringe on Wednesday, August 28th at 8.30pm. More details and tickets here – Faversham Fringe, The Grinning Gardener.
I recently wrote a piece for Topiarius magazine, the flagship publication of the European Boxwood & Topiary Society – of which Modern Mint is both a member and big supporter. Check out the EBTS here. They frequently run courses and talks too, so worth keeping an eye on. Below is the piece I wrote about the tools I use when making topiary and pruning trees…. Darren’s Piece In Topiarius Magazine I use Okatsune Secateurs, which I started pruning with when working on a large orchard in Hampshire. My Felco’s were too difficult to open with cold hands, but the chunky …
Just inc are you are free in the following dates in June, you can visit my mentor Charlotte Molesworth’s topiary garden… Check out the dates the garden is open here. And you can of course join both Charlotte and I for a topiary workshop in the garden in July, as well as September. Hope to see you there!