Maybe what famous garden designer Dan Pearson didn’t know when he was first invited to take a peek at Dartington Hall Gardens in South Devon a little more ago 18 months was that he was quietly screened to see if he was up to the task of charting his long-term future.
The man behind the restoration of Lowther’s Castle garden and the Best in Show winner in Chelsea for his recreation of the Chalk Creek at Chatsworth House in 2015, says he was struck by the beauty of the gardens, his open mind and that he exploited that in his new master plan for the garden, unveiled to a crowded audience earlier this month.
He said: âPeople feel very attached to the garden because it has an open heart and arms, which is so much a part of Dartington’s philosophy.
“At the same time, it’s a very quiet place, it’s aged and has all that patina but that means it’s fragile.”
Established since the 9th century with the medieval Great Hall at its heart, the estate was acquired in 1925 by American heiress Dorothy Elmhirst and her English husband Leonard. Together they created a unique experience in rural regeneration, education and art.
But it’s been 70 years since there was an overhaul and the gardens are about to change.
Considered one of the world’s leading landscape architects, Pearson took the brief from Elmhirst’s philosophy of “respect for the old and joy in the new”.
And her name carries enough weight to succeed American designer Beatrix Farrand (1934-39) who also designed campuses for the White House, Princeton and Yale; respected British designers Henry Avray Tipping (1925-30), Percy Cane (1945-c1960) and Georgie Wolton (1992) and Danish Preben Jakobsen (1985) – all of whom have left their mark on Dartington Gardens.
The garden master plan is part of larger development proposals for the estate, and Trust’s managing director, Rhodri Samuel, praises Pearson’s ârare combination of brilliant creativity and deep sensibilityâ.
The garden plan for the next 20 years or more strikes a nice balance between respecting the old and creating space for the new energy of youth.
Pearson said: âIt’s always been about evolution and growth at Dartington and now that growth needs a new or gentle redirection. It’s now come to a point, especially with the old gardens, which are fragile, that they need attention to get through the next few decades.
The master plan was put together for 18 months and Pearson returned to see the gardens throughout its seasonal changes.
He has already started working with the gardening team to replant the steps of Magnolia.
He said, “It’s a garden of mysteries, a garden you can lose yourself in and slowly reveal its secrets to you.”
But he’s tired in places and confused in others, with signage pointing the way that should rather be intuitive.
One of its most popular areas, like the courtyard gardens, is overrun with the parking lot of service vans or âwhite ants,â as Pearson calls them.
The idea is to gradually deploy a series of new projects to bring new vitality, open up new perspectives and make the gardens easier to navigate.
Already a new gardener has been hired to strengthen the team and the master plan is expected to be released by the end of March.
A long-term view won’t come cheap, but Rhodri explained that much of the work can begin with two generous donors and a legacy left to the Trust. A Financial plan is poised to raise funds to implement the full vision.
Nothing will happen quickly and some changes can be subtle.
But elsewhere, expect a series of daring flagship projects to reimagine the space for the next generation.
Pearson’s vision includes the creation of a new modern entrance to mirror the current front door across the road.
Watch the presentation here
An oversized topiary designed to resemble Bernard Leach pottery will dominate a reception courtyard and nod to Dartington’s long heritage as a creative space.
He wanted to create a craftsman’s garden, to cut and dye plants or herbs, near the artist’s workshops, which will be designed to echo the motifs of medieval fields.
In the cemetery, a raised footbridge will protect the roots of a 2,000 year old yew tree, while the 13th century Sainte-Marie tower will be completed by a hedge church. He explained, âIn this green space, the sky descends to the earth and is your ceiling while the tower then has something to base it on. “
The upper lobby lawn, above the sunny borders, will remain a private but open space with simple railings.
He said, âWe have these wonderful artists and artisans here, why don’t we hire them to do something that is absolutely Darlington?
He explained that since the iconic rocking park is a fragile space, it has lost its intended use for games and entertainment.
He said: “We now have issues with the kids coming down the shores like I would, this is the first thing you would want to do, but these are very fragile environments, we have to use it differently to preserve this. emblematic place.
He plans to create a gutter on either side of the steps of the tilting lot to create a spine of water through the garden that ends in a large pond at the end of the tilting lot to mark the start of a play area. wild childrens perfect for splashing around in the valley field.
Dan explained, âIt can activate the space in a very gentle way.
“Currently, [the tiltyard] it’s not something that we should necessarily try to keep in the aspic because it might not be correct in its current state.
He proposes to use it as an exhibition space, filled with giant rabbits for Easter for example, or illuminated for Christmas.
He said: âWe think it has to be fleeting and it has to be bold. It is a theater without a play at the moment.
The front yard of the Great Hall – which Pearson calls the sacred heart of the garden – will remain unchanged, except for a few improved plantings in the borders.
There will however be a new entrance to mark the east wing of the courtyard, landscaping to improve the dining area outside the White Hart and the relocation of parking areas.
Elsewhere, a performance space to accommodate an audience of 300 will be created on the former tennis court and the enclosed productive garden will be revived with a dedicated gardener’s house, a weekly market and possibly a garden restaurant in the style. from The Ethicurean in Barley Wood, near Bristol.
The parking lot at the bottom left of the main entrance will be moved to create a community orchard.
Dan said: âThe gardeners are a great team. And what we want to do is help with this master plan to give the gardens a sense of direction.
âIt will be done at a slow and gentle pace. We want to tease and seduce and not lose the sense of place. We don’t want to do wrong things. “
“We’re pretty excited about it and you’ve come to a point where what you’re thinking about is way bigger than what’s already there.”