HE has designed the most ambitious award-winning gardens and is a pioneer of natural landscapes and landforms, a wild flower expert and a seasoned plantsman and columnist.

Now, Dan Pearson has collated 10 years of his writing to bring us a year-round celebration of the garden, both practical and inspirational, urban and rural, in his new book Natural Selection.

But his personal favourite seasons are spring and autumn.

“I like spring for the opening up and all that optimism and its break with our long and grey winter, and all that energy.

“I like autumn for the fact that it’s so relaxed in comparison with the growing season that’s just come before. As a gardener, you can let go a little at this point and stop and look. Most things have done what they’re going to do or are in the throes of their last fling.

“It’s to do with berries, colouring, vegetation changing its nature, perennials becoming skeletons and asters coming into their own with a huge amount of colour. All that lovely smell of fermentation and decay provides a tremendously evocative time of year.”

Of course, he has a plethora of favourite plants for all seasons, but here are some he wouldn’t be without.


Epimedium: “I have a whole collection and I love them because they have really interesting leaf mottling and colourings and very delicate flowers. I have European and Asian ones. Epimedium Caramel and E. x versicolor Sulphureum are two really good ones. They look good with the tail end of snowdrops and are good with things that are lower, such as creeping strawberries, and are pretty with a little grass called Melica altissima Alba.

Blossom: “My favourite blossom tree is Malus hupehensis because it is scented, it has a very pale pink bud and pure white flower. It’s glamorous without being in-your-face. It’s graceful and it’s just at the beginning of its wonderfully long season because it reappears as berries or hips in the autumn. It’s just a really good crab apple, not too big for a small garden. I would put that with a backdrop of simple dark holly.”


Sanguisorba Cangshan Cranberry: “This tall and elegant perennial flowers from high summer until October. It’s good in association with other things because it’s got lots of transparency to it. It has very small rich red-burgundy drumstick flowers so you can use it with other things very effectively. I’d pair it with veronicastrum or Persicaria amplexicaulis. They are lovely with those verticals.”

Rosa eglanteria (sweet briar): “It’s just a common-or-garden thing which is super easy to grow. It grows in our hedges and its leaves have the scent of fresh apples. It produces single pink-flowered dog roses in the summer and beautiful autumn hips. I grow it in hedges with hawthorn and hazel. You can also grow it on its own and it’s beautiful in long meadow grass.”


Aster: “Asters are so smart during the summer, just getting ready for their big autumn show so they never look tired. In August, when lots of things have already been and gone and are looking awful, the asters are looking terrific. One of my favourites is Turbinellus, which is lilac-blue and very late flowering, bearing tiny little flowers and very open sprays so there’s lots of space in it and I’d team it up with tall-growing vernonias or something like bronze fennel, which is going into its autumn colouring by then.”

Nerine bowdenii: “These brilliant pink bulbs love a hot, sunny place, ideally against a south-facing wall. They are never disappointing, flower for weeks and are really tough if they have free drainage and sunshine. I’d team them with Viola labradorica.”


Hamamelis (witch hazel): “You can’t have winter without hamamelis. You get perfume, you get a blaze of colour, but it’s not heavy-handed. There’s a range of different varieties. I love Gingerbread, which is a lovely gingery-orange. I have it against a west-facing wall underplanted with snowdrops and marsh asparagus.”

** Natural Selection by Dan Pearson is published by Guardian Faber, priced £20 hardback. Available now.