'Don't care about what the neighbours say' - TV presenter Diarmuid Gavin on his pet peeves in Irish homes
Irish garden designer and TV presenter Diarmuid Gavin admits he once had a bee in his bonnet about Irish garden design.
Front gardens in suburbia all looked the same, he contended.
“You could only have a lawn and a cherry tree and a hanging basket, and no other type of creativity was accepted,” he explains to Independent.ie.
But he suggests: “We can do our own thing. Just dig it up, plant some potatoes in it. Do whatever. Don’t be afraid to be ourselves. Take control of the landscape and do what we want to do, and not care what the neighbours say. It’s very important.”
“So planting plants. Putting plants in the ground, even in the front garden, taking up the whole space.”
“Just putting wildflowers in – something that will be good for pollinators, for moths, for bumble bees, anything like that. Something that helps the environment, rather than poisons the environment, which is what we’re doing now.”
“I think we should begin to forget about lawns, because I think lawns are kind of uneconomical – financially, and the amount of work it takes to sustain them, and the amount of nitrates that go into them. So everybody wants the perfect lawn. And I think that will die out. Because it’s not bottom line environmentally sustainable.”
Hedges too are products of tradition, Gavin says.
“Hedges are all about the sameness of suburbia. And maybe there are more interesting things to do. I was down with a friend yesterday and he was going to put up an ordinary hedge but we persuaded him a year back to put in whips and they have native plant heads. So he’s laid down these dog-roses and birch trees and Hawthorne and it’s all beginning to come together and it’s absolutely brilliant. So there are decisions you can make in that regard, even in suburbia and the cities, that are much better for the environment.”
“They mightn’t be the most perfect, most ordered hedge ever, but that’s only convention. Who says it has to be like that? And I’ve never believed in doing what you’re told to do by somebody like me.”
“Most people want to conform but there’s no real reason for it, and the joy you’ll get from a number of different plants doing their own thing, flowering at different times, sustaining a crazy amount of life forms – things that we regard as pests or diseases or whatever, which could be useful and many of them have a great right to exist. So… much better if you go chemical free, and [allow for] freedom of thought and freedom to create.”
“Once you explain this to people, people can get a lot more relaxed about the way they garden. But I think that is just a natural progression anyway. Kids don’t live by the same rules we live by. They’re completely fluid on their outlook on so many different things.”
He adds: “We’re entering into a fabulous age of cities coming alive and even the countryside being appreciated.”
On a recent visit to Dresden in Germany, Gavin admits he was first appalled, but then enthralled, when he noticed that the roadside grass is left to do its own thing.
“You drive in and you think ‘has a bomb gone off?... this is very messy’, and then you realise it’s all for wildflowers. It’s really messy for the eye because we have trained ourselves to be very neat and tidy in a calming and controlling nature, but it’s all changing, and once you get used to it, you begin to think how brilliant this is.”
“They’re not using chemicals; the maintenance is very little; and there are bees and butterflies buzzing around everywhere.”
“So freedom of choice, I think, is what it’s all about. And telling people, do whatever you want to do. Don’t be slave to a fashion. Don’t be a slave to what you see in Bloom or the Chelsea Flower Show. Do what you want to do.”
Gavin’s own front garden is a thing of beauty but he says his back garden is where his true self lies.
“It’s very funny, we moved in 11 years ago and after two years the estate agent came to us and said ‘please do something with your garden, it’s in such a state that we can’t sell anymore houses’.”
“[At the front there are] wildflowers. We have trees. So rather than doing a front wall, we had a ribbon of trees, birch trees.”
“With our front garden, I moved back a garden we did at the Chelsea garden show to Ireland, so it’s Portugese paving, big daisy shapes with clipped topiary balls in the centre. It’s fun, but the back is where I love the garden and I go a little bit mad.”
“It took me time to come to grips with what type of garden I wanted for myself, and what would have suited, and it’s only in the last few years that we’re getting there.”
“Our place is a little bit mad and certainly has big elements of New Zealand and South Africa in terms of the architecture.”
“I have a corrugated iron shack that looks like a New Zealand sheep shearing ranch at home. We have these wide balconies out the back, cast iron pillars and corrugated iron up and around... So big influence from our travels.”
“We’re kind of on a suburban estate but we’re on the mountains, at the back, there are fields with horses. So we live upstairs and we cook on this veranda. It’s very much New Zealand or South African living.”
“It is a kind of Seattle climate. So we have a Seattle, Portland, Oregan way of life. Good coffee, outdoor lifestyle, the barbeque on, and then delving down into the garden. I absolutely love it.”
Gavin made his oasis of calm with Tasmanian tree ferns, outdoor lighting, a swing, a shack, relaxed chairs, and a bath with some of his Dunnes Stores range of plants.
“Often people living in flats or apartments, the only place they have for growing outdoor plants is that little space for greenery, and people don’t realise the hint of the outdoor life that they could create. The fruit, the vegetables they could grow in these tiny spaces.”
“We put washing machines and Christmas trees and we dump stuff in these spaces that are incredibly valuable.”
But he adds: “Just like everything else in Ireland, it’s going to happen, and all the walls are tumbling down, and we live in this brilliant country and sometimes we don’t really appreciate it.”
Gavin is the latest Irish designer to partner with Dunnes Stores to develop plant and garden shops with a new brand called Diarmuid Gavin’s Outer Spaces.
His opening collection includes a curated offer of houseplants, indoor trees, pots, gardening goods and books. The first shop has just opened in a Victorian butcher shop at 49 South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2.
From mid-October, as part of Gavin’s partnership with Dunnes, gardeners can avail of regular evening workshops at various stores where they will be guided through the crafts of planting terrariums, potting plants and making cacti gardens.
For now, the George’s Street shop houses the launch collection along with artisan coffee with Jazz, Pop, Soul and Bossa Nova tunes on vinyl.