Garden designer Dan Pearson shows Hannah Stephenson how amateur gardeners can adapt his naturalistic ideas into their own outdoor spaces
Ever wondered how to give your garden a real rural touch? Award-winning designer Dan Pearson may be able to help.
After an 11-year absence, Pearson will be returning to work his magic at his sixth RHS Chelsea Flower Show by creating a garden inspired by Chatsworth in Derbyshire, focusing on the more rural part of the estate.
His Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden will represent a small part of the 105-acre garden, inspired by the park’s ornamental trout stream and Paxton’s rockery, depicting an ornamental woodland animated by a naturalistic water feature.
All this sounds rather elaborate for an amateur gardener with a small plot, but Pearson says there are elements of it you can try in your own garden to give it a more rural feel.
“We often use water in small gardens to try to deflect surrounding noises that might be beyond the boundaries of the garden, like traffic, neighbours or pedestrians. Water is a good thing in urban gardens where you have a lot of background noise.
“In an urban garden with limited space, you might introduce water by having a little pool with a pump and water falling over a rock into the pool. That can be done in just a square metre.”
Pearson is using colour quite freely in his woodland garden at Chelsea and is something he recommends to gardeners whose plot may be overhung by trees or oversized shrubs.
“You may have a predominance of green which can be contrasted with bright splashes of flower, but the flowers all have very small blooms even though they are bright.”
Pearson will be combining tangerine orange candelabra primulas, P. bulleyana, which grow in wet conditions, with P. pulverulenta, a cerise pink type with a silvery reverse.
“Don’t be afraid of clashing colours when you have enough weight of green elsewhere.”
The garden will also have large elements, including rocks from Chatsworth, which are being juxtaposed with small, delicate flowers to achieve an effective change in scale.
“In a smaller space, it’s always good not to be afraid of using large things like a simple piece of topiary, contrasted with plants with small flowers alongside it. Play with that change of scale. It allows you to inject a sense of confidence, like putting a lovely big sofa in the room, then just using a small print or motif on it which stops the piece being too weighty.
“The sort of plants you’d use alongside a simple piece of topiary would stop it from feeling too heavy. We’re using things you can see through like umbellifers, not cow parsley but angelica and Ligusticum scoticum (Scotch lovage), which is like a miniature angelica,and some delicate grasses like Melica altissima ‘Alba’, which has tiny silvery flowers which make things shimmer and pick up the breeze.”
Woodland planting which is easy to replicate includes evergreen ground covers.
“In shady settings and woodland gardens, often in the summer when things die down, you’re just left with bare earth. When bulbs which have done well in the spring die out, so we use evergreen ground cover to support that space which otherwise ends up being something and nothing in the height of summer.”
Pearson has used Tellima grandiflora with sedges and wild strawberries which will scramble about in the shade.
If you only have a patio garden, a piece of topiary might make a focal point, with wild strawberries in smaller pots alongside.
“You can also use blueberries in combination with wild strawberries for an edible pot. In our garden we don’t have blueberries but we do have enkianthus, which are a close relative and also have a really good autumn colour.”
Pearson’s Chelsea garden features baby oak, field maple (Acer campestre), hawthorn, the Japanese snowbell tree (Styrax japonicus) - but if you are thinking of growing a tree in a small plot, choose one which will match the size of your space, he urges.
“There’s nothing worse than having to prune a tree that gets too big or even to have to cut it down.’’