King Charles’s ex-gardener attacks botanic garden’s ‘greenwashing smokescreen’

·3-min read
King Charles, Queen - Matt Cardy/PA Wire
King Charles, Queen - Matt Cardy/PA Wire

King Charles’s former gardener launched a stinging attack on a botanic garden whose rewilding project he said has turned it into a “monoculture of weeds”.

For 50 years, Ventnor Botanic Garden (VBG) on the Isle of Wight has been a renowned destination for plant lovers thanks to its unique warm microclimate.

However, in recent months, it has come in for heavy criticism after its owner was accused of letting it fall into disrepair while pioneering a new approach he said was intended to deal with climate change.

John Curtis, an American businessman, has defended his so-called “Ventnor method” under which he said the garden is “transitioning” from the methods of traditional horticulturists and instead creating “synthetic ecosystems” instead.

But David Pearce, the former kitchen gardener at the King’s private residence of Highgrove, has dismissed the hands-off approach to maintenance as being nothing more than a “greenwashing smokescreen”.

David Pearce
David Pearce

In a letter to the Isle of Wight County Press, the 25-year-old, who trained at the botanic garden between 2016 and 2018, said: “This ‘experimental trial’ practiced at Ventnor Botanic Garden is being hailed as the future of gardening, and a solution to climate change.

“However, I believe it lacks any of the scientific backing to make it a viable and supportable scheme. Even if it was, no one should be experimenting to the detriment of a scientifically important collection of plants.

“The world-renowned botanic garden and its extensive collection of plants, invaluable to science, was simply handed over to someone who had zero experience working in gardens.

“Through my recent visits, it is clear that VBG is becoming a monoculture of weeds.”

Mr Pearce, who now runs the historic garden of Whatley Manor, a 12-acre arts and crafts garden and five-star country house hotel in Wiltshire, added: “I believe the Ventnor Method is a greenwashing smokescreen used to hide the lack of financial input made.

“It is clear this experiment has begun to be at the expense of a well-loved visitor attraction, educational centre and internationally acclaimed plant collection.”

Weeds at Ventnor Botanic Garden - Will Dax/Solent News & Photo Agency
Weeds at Ventnor Botanic Garden - Will Dax/Solent News & Photo Agency

He said that the turning point came when the Isle of Wight Council sold the garden in 2012.

“The world-renowned botanic garden and its extensive collection of plants, invaluable to science, was simply handed over to someone who had zero experience working in gardens,” he wrote.

“Skip to the modern day and the Ventnor Method is a term currently being used under the pretext of rewilding and sustainability.”

Criticism of the garden began earlier this summer when Simon Goodenough, VBG’s former curator, returned to the site he looked after for 25 years to find it “overrun with weeds” and “completely run down”.

Mr Goodenough told the Isle of Wight County Press last month: “I’ve sat watching for 11 years as things get worse and worse but feel that I can no longer remain silent on the direction of travel of the garden.

He added that it was “very upsetting” to watch his hard work “go to hell”.

In an attempt to rebut Mr Goodenough’s original criticisms, Mr Curtis defended his progress.

He said: “We believe the future of gardening in the face of climate change and accelerating plant extinction rates will celebrate this approach. It is not a flower-filled quaint English border with graduated heights of planting in threes and fives.”