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Quick Takes With: Dan Pearson


Quick Takes With: Dan Pearson

April 28, 2024
Dan Pearson Portrait

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There are maybe a handful of living landscape designers whose names non-gardening types may recognize. Dan Pearson is one of them. Known for his beautiful, bordering-on-wild gardens and commitment to fostering biodiversity, the British designer, horticulturist, and writer (his quarterly online magazine, Dig Delve, is a must-read) started gardening at 6, opened his practice in 1987, and has since gone on to design jaw-dropping gardens all around the world, many of which we’ve covered here on this site (go here, here, and here for a sampling). Now in his fourth decade as a landscape whisperer, he continues to create immersive experiences that garden-philes plan trips around: “I’ve just started work on a public park in Japan, the second phase of Delos at Sissinghurst will begin this year, and I am working with Rachel Whiteread at a sculpture park in south of England,” he tells us.

Clearly, the garden guru is very much in demand, but anyone can have access to his ideas via his online Create Academy courses (he launched “A Naturalistic Design Masterclass” in 2021 and a follow up, “An Expert Guide to Planting Design”, last year.) And, of course, you’ll learn a lot from his Quick Takes answers below—including his favorite plant, tool, and outdoor wear. 

Photography courtesy of Create Academy, unless otherwise noted.

When he&#8\2\17;s not in London or on a work site, Dan can be found at Hillside, his \20-acre property (a former cattle farm) near Bath.
Above: When he’s not in London or on a work site, Dan can be found at Hillside, his 20-acre property (a former cattle farm) near Bath.

Your first garden memory:

Making miniature moss gardens out of pincushion mosses.

Garden-related book you return to time and again:

Any of Beth Chatto’s books.

Instagram account that inspires you:

Cassian Schmidt. Cassian’s observations of plants growing in the wild and the way that he interprets those plant communities in naturalistic plantings are beyond compare.

Describe in three words your garden aesthetic.

Above: A gravel path flanked by effusive plantings at Hillside.

Wild, immersive, and contextual.

Plant that makes you swoon:

One of Dan&#8\2\17;s dogs admiring his Yoshino cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis). Photograph via @coyotewillow.
Above: One of Dan’s dogs admiring his Yoshino cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis). Photograph via @coyotewillow.

Prunus x yedoensis—the quintessential Japanese cherry for blossom. I love the anticipation of bud break every March, the way that every inch of the branches is covered in the single, soft pink flowers and how the tree buzzes with bees on a warm spring morning.

Plant that makes you want to run the other way:

Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’. Of all variegated shrubs this is the most difficult to live with. The brashness of its yellow makes it the loudest and worst-dressed guest in any garden, demanding attention.

Favorite go-to plant:

Butomus umbellatus. Photograph via @coyotewillow.
Above: Butomus umbellatus. Photograph via @coyotewillow.

Umbellifers. From cow parsley to giant fennel umbellifers have the most pleasing form and are all pollinator magnets. I couldn’t garden without them.

Hardest gardening lesson you’ve learned:

To be able to let go of a garden when the time comes to move on. Creating a garden requires total application and commitment and a large part of the process is making an investment in the future. When I have had to give up gardens I have made—both for clients and for myself—there is always a sense of loss, of grief almost, which takes some time to process.

Unpopular gardening opinion:

Above: The critters at Hillside love a bit of overgrown messiness.

Don’t cut your hedges. An overly tidy garden is not great for wildlife. If you can let some of your hedges grow out they offer much better forage and homes for birds, mammals, and insects.

Gardening or design trend that needs to go:

Instant gardening. Anything instant usually has a hidden cost, which is usually environmental. Take things slowly, reuse and recycle, buy small, and watch plants grow—it gives a much deeper sense of engagement and satisfaction.

Favorite way to bring the outdoors in.

Forcing a branch of Prunus cerasifera in March. Photograph via @coyotewillow.
Above: Forcing a branch of Prunus cerasifera in March. Photograph via @coyotewillow.

Branches of forced cherry plum blossom and pussy willow in early spring.

Old wives’ tale gardening trick that actually works:

Slugs do love beer. I’ve used crushed shells, copper rings, and sheep’s wool, but beer traps still seem to be the only effective and foolproof mollusc deterrent.

Favorite gardening hack:

Old carpet as a weed suppressor around the base of newly planted trees, shrubs, and climbers.

Every garden needs a…

Above: The majority of his property is pasture, much of it oversown with a local native wildflower seed mix.


Favorite hardscaping material:

Boulders, as they bring a sense of age and gravity.

Tool you can’t live without:

My Niwaki hori hori.

Go-to gardening outfit:

This Workwear Gilet is a collaboration between Labour and Wait and Lavenham; £\2\1\2.50.
Above: This Workwear Gilet is a collaboration between Labour and Wait and Lavenham; £212.50.

My Labour & Wait Lavenham jerkin.

Favorite nursery, plant shop, or seed company:

Beth Chatto Nursery is my go to for the range of special species and cultivars they stock, with cultivation advice gleaned from years of experience. I always find something new to add to my wishlist.

On your wishlist:

I made a large wildlife pond three years ago and I am about to commission a green oak pavilion to be able to sit out under cover and watch the rain falling on the water and the full moon reflected in it.

Not-to-be-missed public garden/park/botanical garden:

Hermannshof. Cassian Schmidt, who originated the ground-breaking and influential experimental massed perennial plantings, is no longer working here, but visit in the next couple of years and they should still be looking good.

The REAL reason you garden:

I can’t not.

Thanks so much, Dan! Follow him on Instagram @coyotewillow.

For other recent Quick Takes, see:

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