Roll with the weather

Mon 17th June 2013 2.15PM

Roll with the weather
YOU would have thought that when he moved to a new house in Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland, Diarmuid Gavin, the enfant terrible of the gardening fraternity, would have wasted no time hauling in the diggers, landscaping materials, amazing plants and architectural altars. Think again. The TV gardening maverick admits that it’s easy to talk about garden design, to lecture on it and write books about it, but he developed a fear of it when it came to his own plot.

“I bought a new home, a show house, with a perfectly simple garden – wooden fences, sloped lawn, some scalloped shaped beds to the sides and that was it. But for the life of me, I couldn’t decide on a good design which would satisfy the family,” he says. “I made the terrible mistake of ripping out everything that was here in the misguided belief that a clean sweep would provide some clarity. And then I did... nothing... for ages.” The situation became so dire that his local estate agent sheepishly approached and said Gavin was making his job selling properties very difficult because of the state of the garden. “The ignominy! So, something needed doing. Even then I ran away from the issue. I started work indoors, knocking down walls, repainting and disposing of heavy black curtains.”

Ever distracted with other projects, the TV gardener says that his own plot has progressed slowly. “After some years I developed a plan and commissioned a beautiful illustration. Now at least we know what the garden will look like. “The heavy building work started – a beautiful two storey veranda now crosses the back of the house allowing for outdoor living on two levels. Freshly planted wisterias are beginning to climb towards the sky, wrapped around reclaimed cast iron pillars. The foundation is in for a small summer house. “Over Easter I shifted five tonnes of sieved topsoil in readiness for new raised vegetable beds. The big plan is to terrace – lawns, beds and borders.

“However, the big lesson is – don’t do it my way. Just do as I say.” Gavin and his family live minutes from the coast. Their garden enjoys a sunny aspect but, like the rest of the country, there is plenty of rain. However, he has ploughed on and has achieved some measure of success in his choice of planting. “The difficulty in the last few years has been the either freezing or just plain cold winters. I like to battle against the elements and the echiums that are growing up against the sitting room window are testament to that – they have been burnt by frost but even now stand at a majestic 10ft high. If you are a gardener you roll with the weather.” He offers the following design tips to gardeners who want their garden to look good, whatever the weather: Keep the overall design simple. When you’re making a plan, use a few sweeping lines to lead the eye from the viewing point, which is often the kitchen window, right down to the back of your plot. Turn your lawn into a welcoming green wide pathway, which almost acts as an arrow, drawing the eye or the visitor on a journey. Keep the planting simple. Mass plant low-growing shrubs such as dwarf purple berberis for colour or clouds of Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’.

If your garden is extremely small, shaded or just damp, give up on a lawn altogether. It’s not going to repay any maintenance and you will spend years and fortunes bemoaning the brown patches and invasion of weeds and moss. Dig it up and replace it with a top quality artificial turf.