The former King Charles gardener has launched a sharp attack on a famous botanical garden that its ‘rewilding’ project claims has turned it into a ‘monoculture of weeds’.
Ventnor Botanic Garden on the Isle of Wight has been a renowned destination for plant lovers for 50 years thanks to its unique warm microclimate.
But in recent months, it has come under fierce criticism after its owner was accused of letting it fall into disrepair while pioneering a new approach he believes was intended to tackle climate change.
American businessman John Curtis has defended his so-called “Ventnor method,” saying that the garden “transitions” from the methods of traditional gardeners and instead creates “synthetic ecosystems.”
David Pearce, the former vegetable gardener at the King’s private residence in Highgrove in Gloucestershire, has dismissed the hands-off approach to maintenance as nothing more than a ‘greenwashing smoke screen’.
David Pearce, 25, the former vegetable gardener at the king’s private residence in Highgrove in Gloucestershire, said the ‘rewilding’ project on the Isle of Wight botanic garden turned it into a ‘monoculture of weeds’
When Prince Charles visited the Botanical Garden with Camilla and TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh in 2009
“My recent visits have made it clear that Ventnor Botanic Garden is becoming a monoculture of weeds,” said Mr Pearce. Pictured: Dying Plants in the Garden
Formerly: Subtropical palms and aloes grow in terraced rubble garden, in sheltered microclimate botanical gardens at Ventnor Botanic Garden
After: Recent photos of the gardens show trees with brown and dead leaves and the paths dotted with overgrown vegetation
In a letter to the island’s local newspaper, the 25-year-old – who trained in the botanical garden between 2016 and 2018 – said: ‘This ‘experimental trial’ practiced at the Ventnor Botanic Garden is being hailed as the future of gardening. and a solution to climate change.
‘However, I believe there is no scientific basis whatsoever to make it a viable and tolerable plan. Even if it did, no one should be allowed to experiment to the detriment of a scientifically important collection of plants.
‘The world-famous botanical garden and its extensive collection of plants, invaluable to science, was simply handed over to someone who had no experience working in gardens.
“My recent visits have made it clear that Ventnor Botanic Garden is becoming a monoculture of weeds.”
Mr Pearce trained with the Royal Horticultural Society and now runs the historic garden of Whatley Manor, a 12-acre arts and crafts garden and a five-star country house hotel.
He added: ‘I believe the Ventnor method is a greenwashing smokescreen used to hide the lack of financial input.
‘It is clear that this experiment has come at the cost of a much-loved visitor attraction, an educational center and an internationally renowned plant collection.’
Criticism of the garden began earlier this summer when former curator Simon Goodenough returned to the site he had cared for for 25 years to find it “overgrown with weeds” and “completely dilapidated.”
Pearce criticized experimental ‘Ventor method’ hailed as the future of gardening and a solution to climate change
Pearce said the trial “has no scientific basis whatsoever” and that in any case they shouldn’t be experimenting with a “scientifically important collection of plants.”
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales visit the Ventnor Botanic Garden during an engagement day on the Isle of Wight on 17 July 2009
Mr Goodenough – who left his post in 2011 – felt compelled to make his concerns public by writing a lengthy critique to the island’s local newspaper.
“I’ve spent 11 years watching it get worse, but I feel like I can no longer keep quiet about the direction of the garden,” he wrote.
Mr Goodenough, who started working on the garden in 1985, said it is “very disturbing” to see his hard work go “to hell”.
Mr Pearce continued in his letter published yesterday: ‘Behind the origins of the Ventnor method are the naturalistically planted geographic landscapes created by Simon Goodenough in the 1980s.
‘At the time, these displayed a huge variety of rare and unusual plants (some of which were unique to horticulture) and arranged how they would be found in their natural environment.
Simon realized that given that Ventnor was positioned with a favorable microclimate for breeding species in the Mediterranean zone, it still differed in many very complex abiotic and biotic factors that allow for the establishment of intact ecosystems.
‘That’s why it was gardened; carefully and skillfully cultivated to show an idealized representation of those wild landscapes. For years this provided the horticultural and Isle of Wight communities with a tool for education, conservation and inspiration.”
Pearce said the turning point came when the Isle of Wight council sold the garden in 2012.
“Go into the modern age and the Ventnor method is a term currently used under the guise of rewilding and sustainability.
“Rewilding is an incredibly exciting movement that will hopefully shape the way we continue to manage large tracts of land. However, “rewilding” is very sensitive to greenwashing and VBG is a good example of that in my opinion.
“The biggest misconception of rewilding is that it simply leaves a space to take care of itself. If that space happens to be Yellowstone Park, then neglect can re-wild it because it has a self-sustaining ecosystem.
‘My recent visits make it clear that VBG is becoming a monoculture of weeds. The VBG’s attempt at renaturalising has only reduced biodiversity.’
Mr Pearce said the Ventnor method is being used under the pretense of rewilding and sustainability
However, ‘rewilding’ is very prone to greenwashing, and VBG is a good example of that in my opinion,” he added.
He added: ‘Without management, the dominant, pioneering species will and will outnumber the less vigorous species of flora which, if properly managed, should help us increase our understanding of plants, medicines and ecosystems.
‘It is clear that this experiment has come at the expense of a much-loved visitor attraction, an educational center and an internationally renowned plant collection.
“Basically, I believe the Ventnor method is a greenwashing smokescreen used to hide the lack of financial input.”
The popular attraction – touted as ‘Britain’s hottest garden’ due to its ‘remarkable’ microclimate – was established in 1970.
Until 2012 it was owned by the Isle of Wight Council before being sold to Mr Curtis.
In an effort to refute Mr. Goodenough’s original criticism, Mr. Curtis defended his progress.
He said: ‘We believe the future of gardening in the face of climate change and accelerating plant extinction will celebrate this approach. It is not a flowery, picturesque English border with stepped plant heights in threes and fives.’