Sunday 17 December 2017

Gardening with Diarmuid Gavin -'Paving is the backbone of the garden'

From pathways to resting spots and everything in between, paving is the backbone of the garden

Diarmuid Gavin's Westland garden with daisy paving at the Chelsea Flower Show
Diarmuid Gavin's Westland garden with daisy paving at the Chelsea Flower Show

It's a great time of the year for big garden decisions. Outside is cold and wet and electioneering, so there is a certain detachment from active gardening!

This month is a great time for planning. Today I'm thinking paving - for a number of reasons. I'm planning my 2016 Chelsea Flower Show Garden and after a trip to Kilsaran in Dunboyne, Co Meath, last week, we settled on York Stone slabs to create terraces and steps with.

My own garden is edging towards completion, with a few spots requiring access and hard standing points. I have to install a couple of pathways and patios for ease of travelling around and rest.

Chelsea gardens have a big influence on choices I make. A few years back for my Westland garden (pictured) I used some graphic design influences, painting large daisies on the ground using black and white stone setts (cobblestones) in my show garden. They were a natural and sympathetic material that flowed effortlessly around the large hemispherical box balls, forming a wonderful mosaic surface, very distinctive whilst complimenting lush green surrounding plants.

There is a great variety of paving materials available from specialists, garden centres and merchants, ranging from moulded concrete slabs through natural stone to individually cut setts, many available in different finishes.

Planning is key to choice. Ensure you have a considered design on paper so that you can make choices about the final mood, style and tone of your garden walling and flooring. And, of course, consider your budget before you make your mind up. Hard landscaping can be heavy work to install - and heavy on your pocket too. But the cheapest option isn't always the best.

Setts can be carved out of granite, limestone, sandstone or made out of concrete. Granite setts are hard-wearing and are therefore wonderful alternatives to bricks for driveways or well-used paths. They can be arranged in detailed patterns and have the great advantage of being non-slip for public spaces.

Sandstone and limestone are slightly less hard-wearing, but are beautiful in this form if soft colours are required in the design. Concrete setts are much more affordable and offer a strong even surface.

Bricks are warm and should be matched to the brickwork of the building, so that they create a strong visual link between the inside and out. They are fantastic as they can create simple lines or curved pathways, intricate patterns or traditional path edges. Used bricks are a bit more expensive, but are worth the investment, particularly for walls, as new bricks take years to age.

Gravel and the natural stones offer a traditional feel, and sit well with bricks and cobbles if you are looking to create extra details and patterns. These materials look superb with planting and age well - they also last a long time.

Sandstone blends well and comes in a range of soft colours with natural tones. Weathered stones are also available that can create a settled-in look instantly. Sandstone is split out of rock and therefore has a naturally uneven or riven surface that suits a more traditional design.

For a more contemporary setting, honed sandstone is a smoothed but matt surface that looks fabulous. Limestone has an overall naturally smooth finish, but tends to be more prone to frost damage.

Gravel looks good and is extremely useful as it will cover awkward areas. It can be a great alternative for driveways as it allows for the free drainage of water, which can be a problem in some flood plain areas. Natural gravel tones and block planting can be fabulous for a front garden and so much more attractive than drives that have been completely bricked over.

So before you think about the wonderful plants that you are going to introduce to your garden in 2016, consider access routes and places to sit and enjoy it - a little bit of planning could result in your own yellow brick road!

The joy of snowdrops

The delicate white and green blooms of the snowdrop peeping through the cold winter ground heralds the start of the gardening year. Their arrival is celebrated throughout Carlow and its surrounding counties — at many of the venues which feature on the Carlow Garden Trail — in a dedicated series of events during the month of February.

Though Snowdrop Week has just ended at Altamont Gardens in Tullow, there is still an excellent supply of snowdrops and spring bulbs for sale there — and the Walled Garden Café is open for hot drinks and homemade cakes too. And over at Huntington Castle in Clonegal you can send the kids to the adventure playground while you enjoy the horticultural delights.

Meanwhile, at Shankill Castle in Paulstown, Co Kilkenny, today and tomorrow you can enjoy a family walk through a carpet of snow white blooms. Entry to the snowdrop walk costs €5, or it’s €10 for the garden and castle tour, with family rates available. 

And the snowdrop theme continues until the end of the month at Burtown House and Gardens in Athy, Co Kildare, where the garden and woodland are home to a wide variety of the pretty plants.

For opening hours and booking details, see

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