As garden designer DIARMUID GAVIN embarks on some exciting new IRISH PROJECTS, he’s relishing the prospect of a summer based at home, he tells SARAH McDONNELL …
Diarmuid Gavin has the air of a boy released from school for the long summer holidays. He’s home with his wife Justine, his teenage daughter Eppie, and dogs Roxy and Coco Chanel. He doesn’t seem to mind that four women have trouped into his house to variously interview, photograph and videotape him. He’s making coffee and whipping out pastries and giving out about the strong winds of a few nights before which have had a dishevelling effect on his garden. He’s really doesn’t seem that bothered. He’s just very glad to be home.
Home is in Co Wicklow, but for many years, dividing his time between London where he has an office and a full client list, and his projects all over the world (lately in the South of France and China) he didn’t get to spend much time with his feet under his own kitchen table (rough railway sleepers on a metal frame). Now the development of a new product line with Dunnes Stores means he’s going to be almost completely based in Ireland, where he will be undertaking interesting commissions in the domestic and corporate sphere – a couple are already on the drawing board. “The work going on in the design space in Ireland is ambitious and exciting.” And if people are bold when it comes to the design of their homes, the next natural step is for the focus to shift to the garden? “Yes, and to have spaces that flow from indoors to out, so there is a relationship between house and garden. This is how we live now. This is where my design focus is now.”
His own house and garden is a perfect example, though there are plans afoot to further enhance the indoor/outdoor link by re-orienting the kitchen. Family life centres around a two-storey plantation-style verandah with elegant iron pilasters salvaged from the former Jervis Street Hospital supporting the wraparound terrace, which leads from the kitchen downstairs and from Gavin’s glass-walled studio upstairs. “I liked this house and wanted to live here, because of the space, the views, the community, but the house itself confused me. Adding the verandah made sense of it.” The verandah, which catches the sun at different points throughout the day, is swathed in wisteria and climbing roses, and overlooks a lush, densely planted space, not vast, but divided into areas, with two slate-lined ponds, a lawn, a corrugated iron shed and a gazebo with an Eastern air.
A trio of tree ferns provide exotic height, there are box balls, the huge bay trees which once twirled at Chelsea, and every inch is planted with perfectly judged foliage and plenty of ornery plants, which in his – and Justine’s – hands, they have transformative properties.
Justine he describes as “the Overall Boss of the garden.” “This garden is for Justine and Eppie, with some of my principles integrated. So we have architectural plants but we also have roses and colour and scent and things you can pick and put in a vase …” In the fine weather he was up at 5am to plant. “The perfect weekend is spent gardening during the day – Justine and I will work in different areas of the garden – then socialising on the verandah in the evening. Our plan is to fit out the shed in the garden with a kitchen so we can use that as well, even have our breakfast there. Everything we do is to enhance how we live …”
His own parameters for a good garden have changed too. “Now I can see the argument for more traditional gardens, for colour, for having a place to grow fruit and veg – you can see gardeners like Jimi Blake and June Blake doing wonderful things in this area. The traditional craft of gardening is back.” But that’s not where he began?
“I was young, I was getting to do everything all of a sudden and I was getting confused, I was the angry young man of gardening.”
The playful quality hasn’t gone from his designing, he says but he does admit his style has evolved. “Now I realise every style of gardening existed for a reason, there’s merit in every single one of them, and reasons to respect all of them. I was supposed to wow people – that was my job. It was required.” Will he do it again? “To do Chelsea, you have to be ready for the criticism and the praise. I will, but I need to be ready. ”
Outer Spaces at Dunnes Stores is popping up first at Dunnes HQ on South Great George’s Street: there are cacti, terrariums, garden plants for the young urbanite. There will be demos, workshops on how to make bottle gardens. Given the scale of the projects Gavin is used to, I can’t imagine him enjoying planting a garden in a bottle. But he’s long been fascinated by stores like Wildernis in Amsterdam and Prick in East London, and Conran in London, which offer a gateway to indoor-outdoor living with good indoor and balcony-friendly plants. Keep those alive and you will likely progress outdoors, when time and space allows. Of course, social media plays a big part in seeding and spreading the competitive balcony planting trend on Pinterest and Instagram (Gavin’s own Instagram feed is a carefully tended one, by the way). “Every four-six weeks there will be a fresh drop and it will be tweaked in each location where Outer Spaces exists. Stock will change and we will add items all the time.” Plans include a mobile garden workshop in an old American school bus, which will tour the country, parking up at festivals. Will he be aboard? “Yes of course, and I’ll be doing some of the workshops in Georges Street too.”
He wouldn’t miss it – nothing beats seeing the reactions plants can invoke in the uninitiated. He gave a cactus to each of Eppie’s friends the other day. The eye-rolling he expected didn’t happen, rather “they were enchanted”, these 13- and 14-year-olds. “We are all a bit overwhelmed with technology, with being connected.” What technology drains from a person, a child, being close to nature, to plants and soil and things growing, can replace, he maintains.
We left him planning a jaunt to Finlay Colles at Rare Plants Ireland and a flying trip with a pal … there are holes to be dug in the garden, a kitchen to be redesigned. The emails will still come, the clients will still call but now, at last, there is space and time to perfect his plans and savour life outside.
Photographs by Veronika Faustmann
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