Jan 21, 2010

A Series of Meringues - A Lecture by Dan Pearson

Speaking for 2 hours, hardly taking a breath, rattling off the names of  plants in every other sentence, Dan Pearson's lecture at The New York Botanical Garden on January 21 concentrated on BIG themes:  reading the landscape, sculpting the land and connecting to the environment.

Looking into Dan Pearson's garden in London from inside his house 
I characterize Pearson sensibility as typically English, but not his point of view.  He has a deep knowledge of plants, reverence for sense of place (see his new book featured on the right hand side of this page) and most importantly designs "gardens" so they appear to be non-designed.  He is part of the new wave garden mafia: Piet Oudolf and Ulf Nordfjel.  But his work is distinctly different.

Every designer composes space and uses the interplay between hardscape and garden to their advantage.  For Pearson, the hardscape is recessive and uncomplicated, forming the bone structure for the garden, and the garden overlays this simple structure.  A garden in England where the old garden walls were covered with lichen, was one of the most interesting projects Dan choose to talk about.  For this designer, the old garden walls, became a road map for an evolving series of two garden rooms.  One of these rooms was sensual, dynamic and ephemeral.  The other was devoid of a perceived order.  It was "empty."  It was a series of landforms (convex & concave), created by Dan, with mowed paths.  It was a place to connect with the sky and the air.  The clients had requested a place to lie down and watch the stars and they got it.

Acres of trees, a forest overgrown with bamboo from prior cutting, open areas with no plants, a restaurant:  all set against a background of mountains: this is the setting for a large project, Pearson is continuously working on.   It is not a garden, but a sustainable "park"  in Northern Japan, where the climate is rough:  Winters snow covered and cold:  Spring and Summer short and rainy. Studying the forest floor, how plants volunteer, self-seed, grow next to each other and into each other, crowd each other out, succession, regeneraton, and survival became the basis of the "created garden space" Dan designed near the restaurant.

The plant palette Pearson used is extremely interesting, but that is the topic for another blog. I want to touch briefly on Pearson's idea for the planting scheme.  Dan developed 19 different planting combinations, with 5 or 6 plants in each combination, which began to look like a complicated sequence of DNA. The drawing reminded me of a chart from one of my chemistry classes. Visually the space seems "uncontrolled," more meadow-like then planned garden. This is the genius of the design, you feel overwhelmed by nature, but nature thoughtfully planted.

In the flat baren area, Dan sculpted the land, bringing an 18th century British tradition to this rural Japanese landscape.  These landforms imitate to a certain degree the mountains that surround this landscape.  At the site, Dan built a small model using sand, of the landforms that would be created; this enabled him to play with the relationship between the forms and the mountains.  And interestingly, the landforms magnified the acoustics of the place. Making sound an important element in the space.

In one of the final slides, Dan showed the landforms covered with snow, and he elegantly called it "a series of meringues." For me, this lecture was a meringue: light, delicate, magical and  rich.


James Golden said...

This is very different from the talk Dan Pearson gave at the Grolier Club in Manhattan the evening of January 21st. I wasn't able to get to the New York Botanical Garden lecture, so I thank you for this detailed report. It appears the Botanic Garden lecture was very similar to one he gave in the Vista lecture series in London a few months ago. No problem with that. The Vista lecture, which I listened to on podcast, was a great success and one worthy of several listenings. For those interested, it can be found on the Gardens Illustrated web site.

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