Review: Natural Selection

On the cover of Dan Pearson’s new book, ‘Natural Selection‘ there is a quote: “When it sings, a garden will have the power to transport and to lead you to a place that is magical … It is an oasis for creation, available to anyone with a little space and the compunction to get their hands dirty.”

I am inspired by that quote as it perfectly sums up the great joys of gardening as we travel through the various seasons with no two days alike and always the anticipation of things to come.

In ‘Natural Selection‘, Dan draws on ten years of his Observer columns to take us through the pleasures and rhythms of a year in the garden. If you follow a columnist on a regular basis there is always the chore of cutting out the column and keeping it in a cuttings book. So, when they are brought together to form the basis of a book it is a particular bonus.

As Dan points out on – the columns span a whole decade and the move that charts the change from gardening in Peckham to his move to Somerset.

Dan (pictured left) is one of Britain’s best known garden designers. His iconic Chatsworth garden at the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show saw him win not only Gold but also Best in Show. He has regularly written for major daily newspapers including The Sunday Times and the Observer and his columns are always a joy to read. I miss his Observer magazine columns and was delighted when I discovered that ‘Natural Selection‘ was to be published.

His writing style is fresh, inspiring and extremely knowledgeable. Reading through this book is like sitting with a friend and chatting about the day’s gardening – plant likes and dislikes, reminiscing about plants purchased, lost and found.

He weaves his experiences into the text in a way with which we can all identify and it is heaven. For example, aged ten he discovers his first epimedium in an overgrown bramble; his reading matter is plant catalogues rather than Enid Blyton and for him Beth Chatto’s catalogues were a paradise. I well remember at a similar age I started helping in my mother’s garden as my father was away at sea and the joy I experienced in planting, planning and yes looking at garden catalogues is still fresh in my mind.

For him gardening icons Christopher Lloyd and Vita Sackville-West have acted as his mentors, for us, it is Dan himself.

His columns introduce us to all manner of plants and there is a gem of advice in each one. His prose is descriptive and clear – “When I was gardening at Home Farm, I grew Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ through the old roses with Papaver orientale ‘Perry’s White’ and they held the show for a month before the roses started to bloom in early June.” Already we are hooked to try this combination for ourselves.

I am lucky enough to be able to see his influence and work at Lowther Castle in Cumbria and as someone who admires his style it is a special privilege to be able to visit there and see how that garden is coming to life once again.

The lovely book jacket is designed by Claire Melinsky who also perfectly complements each month with a lovely illustration.

The eloquence of Dan Pearson’s writing style certainly matches the exquisiteness of his planting. Here is a book you can dip into, take a day, month or season at random, and immerse yourself in the best of garden writing.

As Beth Chatto points out on the cover: “Dan’s acute observation and sensitive use of words help us to look with care and see so much for ourselves.” I couldn’t agree more.

I have no doubt that ‘Natural Selection‘ will sit by me in the garden for many years to come.

Natural Selection‘ – A Year in the Garden, by Dan Pearson, is published by Guardian Books, in hardback at £20, May 2017.

Review copy kindly provided by the publishers, Illustrations credit Claire Melinsky, photograph of Dan Pearson ©Jason Ingram.