Gar­dens’ great­est

Diar­muid Gavin is cur­rently on tour in the­atres around the coun­try, he spoke to Va­lerie O’connor

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - Interiors -

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


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.

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