Garden designer Cevan Forristt serves dinner on fifteenth-century Chinese pottery. He makes clothes of silk from Sri Lanka. All thirty-seven Burmese nats—spirits or gods with a human shape that guard objects—are scattered throughout his property in San Jose, California. Monumental remnants, architectural salvage of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906  are piled alongside stacks of Mexican roof tiles and fragments from the rectory of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral.


Protruding from large granite columns clumped together, oil cloth sunshades, brought from Thailand, make a corner of his garden glow amber. Tree bamboo actively thrusts its way through pilings of distressed concrete, granite gravestones, and chunks of stone rescued from abandoned quarries in the Sierra Mountains of California.IMG_1703_1429.CR2

 Forristt is a collector of experiences, objects and plants. He believes in using and reusing, and he likes stuff—lots of stuff. The term eclectic might have been invented just to describe the way he brings the world, ancient and modern, East and West, local and far-flung, to his own garden as well as his clients. While many contemporary garden designs have moved sharply toward minimalism, his have evolved in the opposite direction. He purposely overpopulates his gardens with objects and plants, relics of the sacred as well as the secular.


His work can be seen as continuing in the tradition of artists and thinkers who assembled in the 1950s and 1960s under the auspices of the American Academy of Asian Studies  at the California Institute of Integral Studies. The luminaries of this period include philosopher Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri, Zen Buddhist teacher and writer Allan Watts, artist Gordon Onslow Ford, sculptor Ruth Asawa, and Rudolph Schaffer, the founder of the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Rhythmo-Chromatic Design. “I first visited Burma in 1982, and I keep going back. I like to go where the rules are different. I have traveled extensively in China, Thailand, Burma, and India. I have studied the ceramic tiles of Iran. I go to ancient places. I travel back in time—that’s where new ideas come from.”


His background as a stage and set designer helps him use earth, water, stone, light, and plants as elements to create a theater on which to play or meditate, entertain or muse.


In Cevan’s gardens, every element can be both set and actor. At times the plants take the lead, but more often than not, the stone, water, and light lead the chorus.




Author: urbanehorticulture

A native of England a U.S. citizen for the past 30 years, I have worked in the garden world as a director and designer for over 35 years. I am best-known for my groundbreaking designs at Chanticleer, an estate and “pleasure garden” in Wayne, PA, where I worked for 20 years. Career Highlights I started my gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, where I was trained as a gardener. I worked in three other gardens in the UK, notably Portmeirion in Wales, Bateman’s in Sussex, and Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. At Bateman’s, I was responsible for the restoration of the 17th-century garden. I came to the U.S. in 1981 and was director and chief designer of Chanticleer in Pennsylvania for the next 20 years. I transformed a moribund private estate into one of America’s most exuberant, romantic and flamboyant gardens. Its glorious 47 acres have been celebrated by gardeners and horticulturists from around the world and, based on my designs, it continues to draw international visitors every season. After twenty years creating Chanticleer, I became vice president for horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and, in 2006, was appointed director of the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. While pleased to be in Canada, my heart yearned for California and in 2008 he was appointed executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. After a successful period in northern California, he returned to his home near Santa Barbara, CA where I operated my own design-consulting business. In 2012, I was lured back east by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (founded in 1827) and appointed director of its private estate and garden, Meadowbrook Farm. I was commissioned by PHS to design the central feature for the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show, the third major exhibit I have designed for PHS over the years. Among numerous other responsibilities, I have been a member of the board of the Fairmount Park Conservancy in Philadelphia and a founding member of the business advisory board for the Flora of North America Project. I have designed gardens in Chicago, northern and southern California, and throughout the Northeastern United States. I have also been a consultant to the Garden Conservancy and to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as serving on the horticulture advisory committee of Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California. I have been the Advancement Advisor for the Flora of North America Association and am now traveling the world researching, interviewing, and photographing for a book on gardens around the world. Books & Awards My n first book, The Encyclopedia of Perennials, was published in 1992 by Facts on File. I also contributed to 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die (Barron's Educational Series, 2012) and The Gardener’s Garden (Phaidon Press, 2014). In 2003, I was awarded the Professional Citation for significant achievements in public horticulture by the American Public Garden Association. In 2007, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded me its prestigious medal for Distinguished Achievement. I currently live in the Bay Area, California.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

The New Perennialist

Musings on plants, gardens, travel, food and sex. Mostly plants and gardens.


for people who want more than gardening from gardens


Uprooting the Gardening World

%d bloggers like this: