For some people it’s knitting. For others it’s running, cooking or painting. Everyone has something that just turns their mind off, a form of meditation, if you will.
For Diarmuid Gavin, this activity is gardening. It’s no surprise really, considering he’s a garden designer and television presenter extraordinaire.
“I just get lost in it. I spent the weekend gardening,” Diarmuid tells Irish Country Living as we chat.
“I’d naturally worry about this, that and the other. I was cutting back briars and taking out some stuff, looking at the boarders of my garden. I forgot about everything and when I went to bed, I was just thinking about what I had done and what I want to plant there now that I had created all this space.
“Gardening does that for people, it just clears the mind. When you’re out in the garden you’re generally doing a repetitive task like planting or weeding or sowing. You don’t worry about what the weather is like, you just get on with it. It’s the most brilliant thing. It gives so much pleasure and then so many other people get to enjoy it.”
On his own garden, Diarmuid is quite self-deprecating.
“Well, on Instagram it looks spectacular, but I know the truth and my neighbours know the truth. They tell me my garden looks great on television, but it’s not like that in real life.”
I counter that this is just his neighbours’ way of keeping him grounded.
“There’s an element of that, but there’s also some truth in what they say,” he replies with a laugh.
Diarmuid grew up in the Dublin suburbs. He spent some of his life living in city flats, particularly in London. He found not having space for a garden very difficult. But, having relocated to Wicklow since the birth of his child 16 years ago, garden space is plenty.
It was upon buying this house in the Garden County that Diarmuid first made a will, which is particularly pertinent this month, as he launched My Legacy Month.
My Legacy is an annual campaign that encourages people to consider leaving a legacy gift to a charity they care about in their will. Diarmuid says that often will making is taboo in Ireland, but leaving something behind to a good cause is a great way to show what you cared about in life.
Getting the garden going
One would think, given his status in the gardening world, Diarmuid must have grown up in a very green fingered household. But actually, that’s not the case.
“We had gardens to the front and back of the house, but their [his parents’] idea of gardening was impress the neighbours by keeping the lawn cut and the hedges cut. We had a little pond with gold fish in it and my mother used to put bleach in to clean it. That’s how bad it was when I was growing up.”
From a young age Diarmuid took solace in nature. Near the house where he grew up in Terenure is Bushy Park, which he was captivated by.
“I got lost in Busy Park, because it was the most magical place,” Diarmuid explains. “It was just being a bit of dreamer and liking nature. Even at a young age I’d get my parents’ shovel, I’d go into the park, up underneath the trees and I’d begin to landscape it, as ridiculous as that sounds. It was really Bushy Park that made me dream and made me realise that maybe gardening is something I could do.”
After school Diarmuid went working in a restaurant in Dublin, having ideas of becoming a chef. After five months though a job came up in plant shop nearby and it was then Diarmuid began to pursue a gardening career with fervour.
“I decided I’d love to do that and this would be the way of starting a gardening career. If I did a couple of years in the shop, maybe I could go on to study in the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, and that’s exactly what happened. Even back then in 1985 it was unusual, especially for a lad from the suburbs to want to garden, but I was fairly sure this was what I wanted to do.”
It was 10 years later that Diarmuid would first exhibit at the renowned Chelsea Flower Show, which ultimately would change his life forever. His first outing there in 1995 was uneventful, but the next year things were different.
“I had a very dramatic moment doing an interview for the BBC at my second Chelsea in 1996,” Diarmuid recalls. “It was almost like nobody knew I was alive until one evening and then everything changed when an interview went out on television.
“It was amazing, because no one had ever asked me to do anything in my life. It was almost, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you shouldn’t do this.’ Then all of sudden to have it change over-night, it was very scary and I didn’t really understand it, but it was a great opportunity. Doing the gardens there has given me a life and a voice. I’m very grateful for that.”
After this Diarmuid started making television programmes and writing books, and well, hasn’t looked back since. He won gold at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2011.
And although there have been many days in the sun since, Diarmuid still takes pleasure from the simple things in gardening, like going out and getting lost in his own at the weekends.