Diarmuid Gavin is currently on tour in theatres around the country, he spoke to Valerie O’connor
Ashow about gardening in a theatre; it seems a bit crazy, a bit obscure, but then again everything that world-renowned garden designer Diarmuid Gavin does can be tarred with the very same trowel.
Gavin kicked off his nationwide tour, ‘An Evening with Diarmuid Gavin’, in the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick this week, and though he has plenty of experience of speaking in front of crowds, the affable Dubliner was more than a little nervous at the prospect.
Having delivered talks on gardening and design from Moscow to Beijing, he wanted to do something with structure, and feels there are so many stories to tell when it comes to the great, big and beautiful world of garden design.
Gavin hails from Rathfarnham, Dublin, and refers to himself as having been a dunce in school. When he told his art teacher that he was going to be a gardener, he got raised eyebrows on his career choice, but the same teacher confessed to eating humble pie at a school reunion recently.
Gavin went straight from school to study horticulture at the Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin and hasn’t been without work since, His rise to stardom, however, was meteoric and perhaps worked against him with the gardening world’s brah- mins.
Setting up a business in his early 20s, he was as busy as a landscaper could be, but the artist calling inside was stronger than the need to be just employed. He cared less and less about his jobs until he was eventually evicted from his flat in Ranelagh, on the same day that his stereo was taken away to pay some bills. He had set his sights on the Chelsea Flower Show and made it his mission to get a garden into the show that year — that’s 25 years ago now.
The story is a mindbenderthatincludesdriving to Limerick to find a round tower and stealing plants out of bogs and driving the lot to London just three weeks before the deadline, (normally contestants gets nine months for incubation).
From being homeless and sleeping on friends’ sofas, to becoming a familiar face on our screens with his flamboyantwing-man,laurence Lewellyn Bowen, Diarmuid Gavin seemed to have become a household name overnight.
Gavin is also a very nice man. When he talks about his work he is thrilled and excited; looking into the middle distance he gets misty eyed too. He has so many ideas that still haven’t come to fruition, bubbling away in the fertile soil for his mind. His recent unveiling of the ‘Willy Wonka’ garden in Dundrum is a
of artistry with moving parts and magic, enough to move people to tears and create wonder in anyone’s eyes.
“It’s all I ever wanted,” he says with pride when talking about the amazing installation which is free for anyone to go and see, again and again. With parks and open spaces often playing second fiddle to shopping malls, it’s a balance that might bring us back to the appreciation of nature in the cities.
At 53 Gavin looks better than ever — clearly gardening keeps him in good shape?
“Everybody thinks I don’t get my hands dirty anymore,” he says, showing them to me as I look for the craters of dirt you always see in earthy hands. “But there is nothing like working the soil, digging, breaking it up, getting out the stones, smelling it.”
When asked about following the route of studying gardening or landscaping he recognises it’s tough work, and not always well-paid. “But it’s exhilarating, and the stories that you get every day from the clients that you work with, will stay with you forever.”
These stories and anecdotes make up his one-man show — an event that isn’t really just for gardeners, it’s
I COULD DESIGN PRETTY GARDENS FOR PRETTY PEOPLE, BUT I NEEDED TO BE MORE THAN THAT, I NEEDED TO CREATE GARDENS THAT WERE DIFFERENT. I WANTED TO TAKE INSPIRATION FROM OTHER ARTISTIC FORMS, AND ALSO FROM FEELINGS
for anybody who wants to be inspired by positive stories of making your dreams come true, through real grit.
“Even if you want to do a ‘Willy Wonka’ garden, it still comes down to digging the soil, roots and shoots.
“My ideal is to combine the digging with the fantasy world, it’s not what we do for normal clients.”
It’s no surprise that Gavin courts controversy, with the most out-there installations like the Geoff Koons Gorilla, to his ‘Sky Garden’ Chelsea gold medal — the spectrum he works in is broad. He’s as passionate about medieval gardening as modern parks and being so far flung in terms of commissions, the mind boggles as to how Gavin can do all of this.
“I’m hardly ever at home,” he says. “This is the first time in 15 years that I was home for my birthday and it was just so great.”
Gavin is married to the love of this life and the couple’s daughter is clearly the apple of his eye.
“Of all the things you do in your life, if you are a parent, it is the only thing that matters, the only thing.”
He met his wife when he was gardening and she was fascinated with what he was doing, the two now work together in the business. Gavin quickly understood he could design spaces and gardens that were individual and would absorb as much information as he could about a particular garden very easily.
“I could design pretty gardens for pretty people, but I needed to be more than that, I needed to create gardens that were different,” he says. “I wanted to take inspiration from other artistic forms, and also from feelings.
“I didn’t believe gardens had to be just pretty, they could be tragic too, gardens are about every emotion,
but we have distilled them down as something that just makes the house look good.”
Gavin proudly talks about having knocked the social drinking on the head seven years ago, when his little one was very small — he was travelling the world and never at home.
“The way we drink in Ireland is not OK,” he passionately states. “Doctors will never say that, they brush it under the carpet. But your whole life changes — you stop going out — but that’s OK, you have early mornings and a clear head.
“Being at so many openings at places like Buckingham Palace, giving up the bubbly and partying with so many celebs, had it’s challenges.”
Busy taking over the world, Gavin and his business are working in all four corners and have broken China. “We’re designing parks and public spaces,” he says. “The Chinese only want Western-style gardens which is disheartening in a way, but we are doing some amazing projects.”
Now more ensconsed in China, they can’ t get enough of him and a Chinese delegation came over to Dundrum to see his garden recently, clearly besotted with their mega-star gardener.
Diarmuid Gavin is a man in love with his life, with beauty and the excitement that his work brings. He wants to see little kids eyes fill with wonder when they look at plants, it’s a passion that can’t be contained.
The Antoni Gaudí of gardens, he’s scattering a little magic wherever his digging fingers go.
To catch up with the man and his magic, check out the remaining tour dates, above left.
Diarmuid Gavin opened his Garden of Pure Imagination in Dundrum Town Centre this week and it’s free to visit and open to all.