By Francine Cunningham
Foxgloves, which used to grow wild in the shaded orchard behind my childhood home in County Tyrone, have always been a favourite flower. So, when we returned to Ireland after many years on the continent, I dreamed of a meadow-like garden full of native plants and humming with bees. It would be just what we needed to add character to our new build in Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Recalling some of the wild and wonderful designs of Irish gardener, Diarmuid Gavin, seen at the Chelsea Flower Show over the years, we found his email address online at the start of the year and decided to send him a message. In a happy twist of fate, it turned out that he lives close by us in Co Wicklow. Within 24 hours he was sitting at our kitchen table.
We gave Diarmuid an admittedly vague idea of what we were looking for. Wild-looking but subtly managed; private, but with a view to the beach and surrounding hills; seasidy but no anchors. In just a couple of weeks he sent us a beautiful binder with a design that perfectly grasped what we were aiming for. Only better. He told us to look forward to sitting in our garden this summer. We couldn’t wait.
Then came another lockdown and this time even gardeners could not work outside. When construction was allowed to resume we made contact again to get a start date for the works on the garden. It would involve building wooden walkways and bringing in lorry loads of rich soil “full or earthworms” said DG enthusiastically.
Weeks and weeks went by. When I turned on the radio, I would hear DG answering questions from listeners with gardening dilemmas. When I turned on the TV, I would see him carrying out a wonderful project in Belfast, greening an alleyway between two rows of redbrick houses and making it into a social space. My sister spotted him in his buzzy, new pop-up store selling plants in Monkstown, south Dublin. But there we were, waiting for Gavin.
Getting desperate, I sent a text message to DG, asking when our project could finally begin. He sent me back a message almost immediately to explain that he was currently filming in the UK, but we would be his next top priority.
Late spring turned into summer. I opened my weekend newspaper to see our gardener on the cover, looking splendid in a flower-patterned suit. In September, we heard on the radio that he had was hosting a three-day garden festival in Kerry. And there we were, still waiting for Gavin.
When Ireland’s Indian summer turned to autumn, DG finally dropped in. Within two minutes all was forgiven. He could charm the birds out of the trees. If we only had some trees.
What we learned was when he arrives, he really arrives. Total and absolute vision, plant passion and commitment. It is now a Sunday morning in mid-October and DG is outside putting in the last of the plants. He calls this the “joyous” part of his job. (How many people can describe their work in that way?) Outside our kitchen is a riot of autumn colours: rich reds, dark leafy greens, mellow yellows and burnt orange. A wooden walkway meanders through a multi-levelled garden to immerse yourself in.
The garden is simply way beyond anything we could have possibly imagined. DG and his ‘plant man’ and wing man, Paul, even brought us a couple of chairs and lit up the firepit so that we could experience the full effect. I never knew that a garden could make me so happy! It was well worth waiting for Gavin.