We had the great pleasure of visiting our friend Andy Peasgood whilst in Scotland opening the new Aubin store. It was fascinating talking to Andy, whose career to date spans Principal Dancer for Scottish Ballet to re-establishing himself as a self-taught gardener and writer specialising in new build gardens. Andy has an inherent creative talent that simply demands to be expressed.
Andy was born in Grimsby into a family of gifted performers, so his childhood was immersed in performance, song and dance. His grandma “ran off” to join the Bertram Mills Circus at the age of 18 where she became a celebrated juggler and acrobat. During the late 50’s she toured the UK at the peak of the circus’ fame and learnt the art of Risley; where an acrobat lies on his back and spins something using only his feet. Although she had retired long before Andy was born, he remembers a valuable piece of advice she gave him which was “go with the flow” and trust in your instincts. It could be fairly assumed that this is where some of his aptitude for performance comes from. The family’s talent for performing doesn’t stop there either, his auntie is the actress Julie Peasgood, former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and his sister, Emily Peasgood, an Ivor Novello Composer, sound and visual artist.
“I love to give things a go, and if they go terribly, then that in itself is an opportunity for me to think on my feet”.
Growing up with these amazing performers around him must have served as huge inspiration. He loved to dance and from a young age was a huge fan of Gene Kelly; his impetus to learn to Tap dance. But after years of training Andy was encouraged by his mother, a very positive support to him throughout his dance training and career, to broaden his horizons and to audition for ballet school. Not just any ballet school but the Royal Ballet School, one of the top three in the world. Andy was of course accepted and made the monumental move from Grimsby down south to Henry VII’s ex-hunting lodge, nonetheless. White Lodge in Richmond Park is home to the Royal Ballet’s lower school. Only a very select number of students are trained in classical ballet here from the age of eleven to sixteen, and only the most exceptional carry on to study at the RBS Upper School. Andy was one of these exceptional dancers who moved to the school’s Covent Garden based campus to continue his studies. He lived on Floral Street right in the heart of the London’s performing art’s scene, where he must have felt very at home. During his time at the upper school he continued to show great aptitude and natural, as well as hard earnt, skill. He won 3rd prize at The Young Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet companies. Andy also choreographed several works for the school at the Linbury Theatre and Sadler’s Wells- the latter was a special collaboration with the Yehudi Menuhin School. He travelled the world and performed on some of the most renowned stages, including The Royal Opera House in London.
With so many huge achievements already made, at the young age of 19, Andy was asked to join the Ballet de L’Opera National du Rhin immediately after graduating, and so he moved to France. He was given the opportunity to work with many choreographers during this time at L’Opera which gave him the opportunity to spend a lot of time on stage. Andy fortuitously met his wife and fellow dancer Megan during this period at a ballet masterclass in Prague, they performed together in France many times from 2008-2010. After two years in France and many highly acclaimed performances, Andy joined the Scottish Ballet where he rose through the ranks to become Principal Dancer. During his twelve years with the company, he performed many works and was directed by some of the industry’s most esteemed choreographers, including Christopher Bruce, David Dawson and Sir Matthew Bourne.
“We try to outperform our emotions, but eventually, they catch us up. The garden helped me in reducing my low-confidence and the dislike I had developed for myself”.
Horticulture came into Andy’s life long before the lockdown gardening boom, but it was born through struggle and anguish. He was training for a Christmas season of Cinderella, directed by Christopher Hampson, which has a challenging and technically very exposing Act 2 for his lead part as the Prince. He was exhausted both physically and mentally; he’d reached the pinnacle of his ballet career but was burning out. After a particularly taxing training session Andy went out into his garden to plant some spring bulbs. It was Autumn and he remembers his hands were cold, but without even realising it his mind had cleared itself of all the worries and anxieties he had been experiencing. He reflects on this moment now as a kind of self-healing, better than any psychotherapist session. “There was no need to pretend I was ok because I felt I was in a safe place and that, in itself, helped me accept, negotiate and understand some serious emotions. I use the garden as a tool for this to this very day, and I am forever grateful for that”. This profound experience made him question his career, and though to this day he has connections to Scottish Ballet mentoring Scotland's young dancers, the decision to move to horticulture had been subliminally made for him.
“The beauty with gardens, is that you can switch play at any point, changing the lead performer”.
A few years after Andy’s official retirement from professional dancing, he and his wife Megan bought their first family home. They’d just had their first baby and decided to invest in a new-build property with a small and completely empty square of soil for a garden. This completely blank canvas was Andy’s starting block to launching his gardening career. He’d had no official training, but his years of travel and performance had exposed Andy to endless theatre, scenery, costume and colour; all key garden design elements. He saw his own garden with all its potential, much like an immersive piece of theatre. He draws many comparisons; having a ‘showstopper’, such as a garden building, as the lead performer and the hardscape textures, water features and planting elements to make up the ensemble. The creativity of garden design along with his own experience of how the space can help support mental health really spoke to him. So he made the difficult decision to retire from Scottish Ballet and threw himself into his garden. He started with the principal performer, a much-treasured potting shed, and then added the hardscape, a little wildlife pond and other features to attract as much wildlife as possible.
“I’m constantly questioning what we want now form the garden, what’s working, what’s not working and taking that all into account.”
With all his ideas and ambition Andy is just at the very start of this exciting horticultural chapter and has “no end goal”, he’s simply going with the flow. He is passionate about working with new build gardens, which start life a little un-inspiringly, following the rewards of designing his own. He’s particularly keen in promoting and creating habitats, even in small spaces, that support wildlife as well as the homeowners needs. Andy freelances for Caledonian Horticulture now, filming garden projects with them and airing them on their YouTube channel. The filming is often from his own garden where Andy demo’s how to replicate his many creative garden features and projects; such as his ‘wildlife wall’ which his daughter helped him to create, foraging for cones, sticks and grasses. He also writes a regular column on new-build gardening for Scotland Grows, Scotland’s no paper on-line gardening magazine, specific to Scottish growers. Since setting out on his gardening journey in 2021, even at this early stage, he’s creating a stir amongst the gardening community. He aspires to work with new build companies to work alongside them and maximise the potential of the gardens they create, so they aren’t left as an afterthought. He wants to challenge the usual algorithm of “building a path, laying astro turf and lining it with raised beds”.
Not a guy to do anything by halves, Andy has his sights set on a post-grad in garden design, which he hopes to start in December. Supported by a fabulous scheme for ex-dancers called Dancers Career Development; a fund which top dance company’s pay into during the dancer’s career to pay for their retraining after retirement. Because Andy was with Scottish Ballet for such a long time, twelve years, he qualifies for a healthy fund which he now intends to invest in his gardening design business.
“My interest in horticulture has an incredibly far reach and as such, my ambition has no end goal”.
We feel sure that Andy’s amazing experience of performance, dance and theatre will bring an exciting new perspective to garden design, and we can’t wait to see where his creativity will lead him next. The many budding gardeners among the Aubin team are eagerly awaiting his next YouTube instalment. If you’ve just moved to a new build, or if you simply have a garden in need of inspiration, we recommend checking in with Andy and Caledonian Horticulture on YouTube and watching their bite size tutorials. You can also follow Andy on Instagram @andypeasgood