Dan Pearson is something of a phenomenon as a garden designer. When he first appeared on British television in his late 20s, his chiselled cheekbones, floppy curls and focus on naturalistic planting marked him out from the jolly middle-aged men who then presented garden TV programmes, with their interest in chemical sprays and pelargonium cuttings.
The British public took Pearson to their hearts, and his distinctive, thoughtful approach to gardens has won him myriad awards as designer, author and presenter. Commissions have ranged from a garden for a Zaha Hadid-designed residence in Moscow to a wild, romantic plot within the walls of a medieval village near Rome. Criticism of his work is sometimes seen almost as heresy.
Last year Pearson created his first garden for 11 years at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, and almost inevitably won a gold medal and the award for Best Garden in Show.
Pearson’s design was inspired by Chatsworth, the great country house in Derbyshire’s Peak District, with a landscape laid out in the mid-18th century by Capability Brown and significant additions by eminent Victorian designer Joseph Paxton.
It was two of Paxton’s elements at Chatsworth that fired Pearson’s imagination: the vast rockery with its boulders and waterfalls, and the small-scale trout stream, which Pearson described as a:
‘charming, intimate doodle.’
The resulting design for Chelsea felt more like a slice of nature than a traditional show garden, but it was that very feeling of artlessness that carried all before it, the sense of a rugged corner of a great country estate among all the primping and prettiness of Chelsea.
Now Pearson’s garden is, as promised, being installed at Chatsworth – or rather, the area around the trout stream is being ‘enhanced’ with many of the features and plants seen at Chelsea.
From a visit just after Christmas, I can report that the visible planting so far includes quiet swathes of epimedium, Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ (a recent Chelsea plant of the year), ferns, ivy, evergreen grasses and the emerging tips of daffodils and irises. We are promised more interest and colour in the Spring and Summer as martagon lilies, white peonies, ox-eye daisies, hyacinths, Welsh poppies, and a variety of grasses and ferns will mingle beside wild laburnum, sweetbriar roses, blackberries and gnarled azaleas.
This new planting at Chatsworth has a gentle, naturalistic feel, with none of the drama of the Chelsea site. But Dan Pearson’s name and the publicity surrounding the Best in Show award will ensure that visitors venture more often to Chatsworth’s previously neglected trout stream. And with a new RHS Flower Show to be held annually at Chatsworth from summer 2017, Dan Pearson may not be the last famous designer to be inspired by the grand old estate’s bold vistas and forgotten corners.