Natural Selection

by Dan Pearson

Natural Selection by Dan Pearson
Highlights from ten years of the garden writer’s column for the Observer, focusing on his gardens in London and Somerset.
Reviewer Stephanie Donaldson is a garden writer.

Dan Pearson’s latest book is a month-by-month selection of ten years of his highly readable Observer columns. City and country are interwoven as he writes about his former London garden and his new home in Somerset, where he is transforming a 20-acre small holding into a garden that is a distillation of all that he has loved about plants and gardens from childhood, combined with what he has learned over the intervening years. Interspersed are occasional columns about his city allotment, the garden of the studio from where he runs his design practice, and a few enticing glimpses into the private domains of his international clients.


Reading this book is like meeting up with old friends. Some columns are simply enjoyable company, others have inspired my own planting, (his description of falling for a violet-scented, double, white Banksian rose in Rome set me off on a quest to buy my own) while there are those that remind me of things I’ve been meaning to try out in my own garden. The book is already bristling with page markers.

Pearson’s writing always feels personal; the story of his gardening childhood is familiar, but is enduringly engaging and peopled with a wonderful cast of characters. But this is not simply an exercise in nostalgia, his observations are crammed with useful advice and great plant recommendations for every size of garden. For example, using a black mulberry in a small garden to provide a scaled down tree with the character of an oak.


There is a certain amount of repetition with common themes recurring, but this isn’t a book to be read from cover to cover. Rather it is one to pick up and come back to later, having digested a few juicy morsels. Clare Melinsky’s simple graphic illustrations capture key plants through the year.

Illustrated by Clare Melinsky

Guardian Faber, £20

ISBN 978-1783351176

A book cover of 'Natural Selection' by Dan Pearson