Award-winning garden designer Dan Pearson is returning to the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show after an absence of ten years, with a breathtaking show garden that captures the spirit of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire
What are you doing at Chelsea this year?
I’m designing a garden for Laurent Perrier in association with Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. The garden is based on a part of the Chatsworth garden that few people see – the trout stream in the upper reaches of the garden, as well as an extraordinary rock garden made by Joseph Paxton. The stream is intimate and charming, while the rock garden brings the drama of Chatsworth that we wanted to convey.
How is the garden laid out?
We’re bringing a large quantity of rock down from the Chatsworth Estate, and creating a rock work with the trout stream woven in between – there are some huge piece of rock, the size of small cars. Then we’re making a woodland garden which is very naturalistic and gentle, to counter-balance the drama of the rock work.
What kind of planting are you using?
Lots of native trees, like Acer campestre, and also lots of specialist plants that reflect the fashion for plant hunting in Paxton’s day. The planting is predominantly yellow and green with rhododendrons and Hydrangea aspera ‘Macrophylla’ with a perennial layer underneath. Meadow turf is studded with bright wild flowers, including primula, irises and Pheasant’s eye narcissus.
What’s happening to the garden afterwards?
The garden has to have another life – that’s very important to me, I wouldn’t be doing a Chelsea garden if that wasn’t the case. So we asked the Duke of Devonshire whether he wanted to renovate the trout stream area at Chatsworth. He was enthusiastic, and we’re taking all the plants back there after the show. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to do something really exciting at Chelsea, and also to reintroduce people to a forgotten part of the Chatsworth garden – the wild side of Chatsworth that people don’t necessarily think about.
How does the Chelsea garden relate to your work as a whole?
In all my work I’m interested in trying to find the meeting point between what’s wild and natural on one hand, and the ornamental, cultivated garden on the other. I’ve always been drawn to gardens on the wild side, and the way I garden is to let things go almost to the brink of gardening, letting things self seed and find their own pattern, but to observe and control it just enough to hold it back. I want my gardens to encourage other people to connect with nature, to encourage contemplation and self-reflection.
When did you start gardening?
When I was three I was given a Hippeastrum for Christmas by a neighbour. Watching it turn from wizened brown bulb into breathtaking red trumpet was what kick-started my interest in plants. Very quickly I started making little gardens for my collection of trolls out of bricks and slates, moss, twigs and leaves gathered from the garden. My parents encouraged this early interest and, by the age of ten I had planted my first border at home.
Where did you study?
I left school in the middle of my A levels to study the Certificate of Horticulture at RHS Wisley. Following that I went to work and study at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens for a year. While there I went on a field trip to the Picos de Europa in Spain to look for wildflowers, and had my first experience of seeing garden plants growing in the wild. It was an epiphany and inspired me to make further trips to the Himalayas when I was at Kew, where I went following Edinburgh. After Kew I had another year working at Jerusalem Botanic Garden, and every weekend that I could I travelled out of the city to look for wild plants.
What was your first commission?
My very first commission was for Frances Mossman while I was still at Wisley. Frances has done some teaching with my mother at Winchester School of Art, and when she said that she was looking for somebody to design her garden, Mum suggested me. Frances’s first garden was in Barnes and, with no training, I designed and made it with close reference to John Brooke’s A Room Outside. In 1986 Frances and her husband left London for the country, where they had bought a derelict farm. She asked me to design the garden there, but this was to be a different kind of garden, one that blurred the boundaries between landscape and garden, and where she gave me free rein to experiment with my ideas of using plants naturalistically in large drifts.
Clare Foster is Garden Editor at House & Garden magazine and has written for the Guardian, the Sunday Times and the Daily Express among other publications.
Images: portrait by Jason Ingram. Garden visual and Chatsworth images by Dan Pearson Studio
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