Diarmuid Gavin Shares His Expert Tips For Summer Gardening

How To Create A Gorgeous Summer Garden, According To Diarmuid Gavin

The sun shone for a unique event at Amo & Pax with garden designer Diarmuid Gavin …

THE GLOSS event at Amo & Pax with Diarmuid Gavin on May 19 was blessed on every front. It was a beautiful Sunday morning when guests gathered at Amo & Pax, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow to learn how to create a garden filled with flowers and colour all summer long. Founders of THE GLOSS Jane and Sarah McDonnell and Amanda Pratt, founder of Amo & Pax, could not have wished for a more heavenly day, or a prettier venue in which to focus on the challenges of gardening in these erratic climatic times. Diarmuid’s inspiring talk, the sound of birdsong and the fragrance of the flowers he had potted up for the occasion, did much to reassure those gathered that gardening is still a pursuit worth pursuing and that gardeners might play a part in creating colourful wildlife corridors to encourage biodiversity.

Amanda Pratt, Founder of Amo & Pax.

After good coffee and croissants (and delicious vegan financiers!) from Roundwood Stores, Diarmuid took charge and told us exactly how to create a garden that displays colour all summer long, taking into account borders, ground cover and climbers. He urged guests to do their own thing, not to be too influenced by trends, and to plant what they love to look at, and which will suit their gardens’ conditions.


Diarmuid started with the original idea of creating a thyme lawn, a tapestry of greens, purples and yellows, suitable for dry, light soil or small bright front gardens. It might take you two years to establish, and a certain amount of weeding, but after that, you’ll reap the benefits in sights and scents.

For great colour fast, choose speedy climber Solanum Glasnevin, the purple potato vine which should be planted just 3cm below the soil and well-watered until established. The same goes for clematis – both plants love a feed of good fertilisers as they push their roots into the ground.

For pretty pinks, Diarmuid recommends the Mexican Fleabane daisy which flowers all summer long and seeds all over the place – don’t plant this one if you don’t find daisies popping up in cracks in pavements and steps utterly romantic and sweet – this is a super-spreader.

He is a fan of the gorgeous foxglove, in many colours, and uses roses in most of his schemes. David Austin’s modern roses are hybridised to be disease-resistant and to have a long flowering season, unlike older roses which may fade after just one flush. Rosa Claire Austin, a vigorous pink climber, is named after David’s daughter – Diarmuid believes if David Austin has named a rose after his kid or grandkid, that is a very good one to choose. Hybrids are not good at attracting pollinators though, so make sure to keep a mix in your garden.

Gorgeous Salvia Mainacht, with its purple spires, is a Mediterranean plant which nonethless does very well in Ireland. Combine it with soft greys or oranges, suggests Diarmuid, which sounds just right.

For that gorgeous classic – lavender – infertile soil is best, and will last seven to ten years. Create a low hedge with English strain Hidcote, he advises. And of course lavender does very well in terracotta pots, since it doesn’t mind drying out a bit.

If your soil is heavy, try creating a low hedge with catmint instead. Nepheta Six Gills Giant is the most common and hardy and it likes heavy soil. It has a more sprawling habit than lavender (this seemed like a good plant on which to demonstrate the brutal Chelsea Chop!) and has a wonderful scent.

Having chopped the catmint, Diarmuid demonstrated just how easy it is to take a cutting – strip a shoot about 5cm long of leaves and poke into a flower pot filled with compost, with or without rooting compound – the plus being that a cutting will always be true to the parent plant.

Gorgeous purple alliums, a member of the onion family, popped up next. They are flowering now and will continue into June, great globes of colour which provide shape and interest, punctuating borders and beds. Giant Echiums, with their towering grey and purple spires are the skyscrapers of the garden, says Diarmuid, who had planted them in his own garden in Kilmacanogue. They work in coastal areas too. Clue: If a plant has silverine leaves, it means it will thrive by the sea.

Geranium palmatum (more purples) are a delight. These are true geraniums (as opposed to pelargoniums which we tend to refer to as geraniums), hardy and happy in dry conditions and in dappled shade, and very useful ground cover.

Blue hydrangeas and pink ones were discussed, with again, the clue in the name – lots of water is required to keep these pretty plants happy. On the other hand, newly popular dahlias prefer not to have their feet in water and Diarmuid says it’s best to lift the tubers and store over winter and plant again. Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff, a showy red number, popped up on a slide, but there are a multitude of divine (and more subtle) colours available.

Guests enjoying Diarmuid’s garden talk.

Diarmuid’s spectacular garden is a sublime example of gardening on two levels, with vast tree ferns and echiums reaching well over his two-story veranda and creating an exciting canopy of green overhead, while geraniums tumble over the walls of the veranda. Diarmuid explained how green is a colour too and the potential of texture must be explored, even as you stay within a palette of greens. His garden also harbours Rosa Gertrude Jekyll, plenty of azaleas, Jasminum Solanum (“a thug! Spreads everywhere!”) Hydrangea Annabelle, African lilies and oriental maples. It’s a dreamlike garden where natives and Ireland-adapted exotics exist in harmony. But DG is big on gardening mainly with natives or plants that have been established here in Ireland a long time.

Our gardens are changing, as the climate changes. We must garden without chemicals, says Diarmuid, we must avoid importing bugs or disease by taking a sneaky cutting abroad. We badly need the bees to pollinate so our food can grow and gardeners have an important role to play. It falls to gardeners now to create lush corridors to encourage wildlife and biodiversity. Avoid too much grass (the energy and resources and water a lawn requires do not make them climate-friendly). Or you could let the daisies and dandelions grow, at least in one section of your garden. Or if you are starting from scratch, with bare soil, plant a meadow. Plant native seeds now, and you will have a meadow in twelve weeks. Food for thought!

Inspired by DG’s relentless energy and ideas, everyone was buzzing by the end of the talk. It was the perfect opportunity to meet this Irish garden designer, celebrate creativity in a beautiful space, and browse Amo & Pax’s unique edit of fashion, accessories, jewellery, gifts, books, stationery and interiors, chosen with creativity and sustainability in mind.

Guests departed with a gift of a plant grown from seed by Graham Fallon of the National Botanic Gardens, ready to pop into the soil and flower all summer long.

Click into the gallery to see the guests who attended.

Photographer: Kieran Harnett

Do you know about a smart party, event or wedding happening soon? Email details to glossip@thegloss.ie 


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