A garden boom is in full swing as we splash out on grooming home grounds
There's a bumper crop of giant Buddhas and porcelain paving popping up in Irish gardens, writes Niamh Horan
Last week, some Irish homeowners were informed they might have to sacrifice part of their gardens for Dublin's new rapid bus network - but for the rest, it's boom time in the home grounds
Irish homeowners are splashing out thousands making their gardens their kingdoms with giant Buddha statues, luxury gazebos, erotic statues and cascading water fountains all featuring on an eyebrow-raising shopping list.
One masonry and construction firm in Limerick, Stone Age, has reported clients spending up to €150,000 on transforming their gardens into their pride and joy.
Manager PJ Hennessy says demand has even surpassed Celtic Tiger levels.
"This year has been the year that people have let themselves go," he said, adding that his clients were keen to add an extra outdoor 'hangout' area to their homes.
"Gazebos and pergolas are very popular," he said.
"The spend is starting at about €3,000, and the sky is the limit. Money is no object.
"People are going for all-weather gazebos that can cost anywhere up to €20,000.
"They also like pergolas because they create the impression of leading you to another space in the garden. It feels like you are walking into the unknown - and they look beautiful when decorated with flowers."
Mr Hennessy also describes how the local leprechaun and common European gnome have been elbowed out by an invasive eastern species.
"One thing that amuses me is the popularity of Buddha statues in Catholic Ireland. People are now opting for two and three-foot Buddhas peppered around the lawn because clients like the fact that they symbolise peace and tranquillity and feel they bring that to their home."
One client paid €20,000 for a bronze statue of a horse, while nude and erotic statues are proving a popular choice.
"On the continent, people have always had nude statues - they grew up with them and see them as no big deal. I think it is a sign that Ireland is shedding any prudish attitude it might have had hanging over from the past. They're mostly going for nude ladies - I guess they are just beautiful to look at, so they are always a popular choice," said Mr Hennessy.
Sandstone is increasingly popular to bring home the "Mediterranean holiday feel", and luxury French porcelain is also in demand.
Mr Hennessy told how Irish homeowners are also taking the chance to fit in a break in the sun while their gardens are being transformed. "Some clients will take a holiday while their garden make-over is underway. We had one woman arrive home in tears when she saw the transformation," he said.
Another notable trend is the spend on artificial grass.
"It amazes me how much a demand there is for artificial grass," said Mr Hennessy. "Ireland is covered with grass. We are one of the greenest countries in the world, but they want the artificial version because it is such low maintenance. The average spend is about €20,000.
"Artificial shrubs are very popular too. They are so real you would have to go up and physically touch them to know any different."
On the mood that is driving the demand, he said: "In the past, people felt less was more when it came to their garden. It was just something you maintained with minimum hassle.
"As long as you had the grass cut and the lawn weeded, that was it.
"When people started travelling abroad more often, they saw gardens and wondered why can't they have that at home.
"I think people realise that gardens can add value to their home, and they are also spending more time at home. Some spend as much time in their garden now as they do in the house, and they are using their gardens to socialise with neighbours.
"After all, the entire neighbourhood may not get to see inside your house - but everyone sees your garden."
Bringing the new high-class feel to the garden has also seen a rise in the popularity of outdoor music speakers channelling meditative music, topiary (the art of trimming hedges and shrubs into specific shapes) and the sound of relaxing water features tumbling from outdoor mirrors or polished rocks.