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Pie in the sky – Diarmuid’s Chelsea garden

February 15, 2011

He’s an hour late. The schedule of talks has to be re-jigged. He rocks up in a leather jacket with a twinkle in his eye and a smile to melt your granny’s heart. There’s standing room only in the small curtained room. It can, of course, only be the bad boy of gardening himself, the irrepressible Diarmuid Gavin. He’s here at the RHS London Flower Show to tell the gathered public about his latest escapade designing his 7th RHS Chelsea Show Garden.

Not one to be conventional in the oft-straight-laced world of horticulture he’s back at it again with a cartoon-inspired creation. ‘Incredibly nervous’ about the idea of coming back to Chelsea he joked that auditioning was like being on the X-Factor. He claims not to be a typical Chelsea gardener ‘I don’t really need a gold medal. I don’t need to do a garden that’s acceptable to people.’ Instead, he says he enjoys the challenge, to explore space and the fun he can have, pushing the limits. His designs are, by his own admission, ‘off-the-wall’ this year. He is fascinated by the idea of the garden as pleasure grounds and the ingenuity that garden-makers used in the past to entertain, surprise, astonish and delight. An idea he believes has been lost in recent times with the progress of technology and people getting their distractions from elsewhere. The idea of contemporary is important to him – having choice and not just relying on gardening traditions. He clearly really enjoys the challenging aspect of designing and creating a show garden – complaining that when a show garden goes too smoothly or is too easy he feels disconnected and doesn’t feel as though he’s been a part of the process.

‘Chelsea is an absolute nightmare, but brilliant.’ Diarmuid Gavin

The idea for this year’s design came about when Cork Midsummer Festival approached him to create a garden. He cited some of his inspirations and influences such as: the begonia carpet bedding outside the Grand Palace in Brussels and its unifying effect on people – the flamboyant creativity making people smile and the idea that a garden or flower display can do this; other quirky designs including a pattern of water circles in Venice Beach which he was particularly taken by; and Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland with its stepped features. He confesses that, really, he’s still a little boy that loves dens, playhouses and elevated tree houses – ‘buildings and structures where they shouldn’t be’. He talked about watching Avatar and the floating islands/worlds in the movie, which set his mind thinking – ‘would it be possible to do a garden in the sky at Chelsea Flower Show?’  The answer, it would appear, is yes. So here he is, creating his ‘Avatar-style garden in the sky at Chelsea’.

The design illustrates a floating garden suspended from a crane, hanging above a garden on the ground with mounds based on sand dunes and reflective circular pools – having fun with the idea taken from the Giant’s Causeway and the use of water. He wanted to create a ‘launch pad’ for the garden with hints of what’s above. The planting will be green and textural (sorry, not much detail I know! – but this will probably mean lots of grasses?). The hope is that the floating garden will go up and down every hour on the hour.

It may be a bit fantasmagorical but as Diarmuid himself admits it’s a ‘deeply impractical garden that will probably never happen again.’

Plot:  Diarmuid has been given a ‘generous’ 40m x 18m plot by the RHS.

Life after Chelsea:  The garden will be replanted in Cork city centre after Chelsea. Diarmuid was asked in the Q&A after the talk what his budget for the garden was. He replied that it was Euro 2.375m – but that the budget was a bit ‘weird’ in this case because the garden will be incorporated into a larger park after the show.

(Update – 11 May 2011 –  I have been informed that the budget figure Diarmuid mentioned references the overall Cork project not the garden itself. I know the question of budget interests certain people so I have asked for clarification as to what his budget is specifically in relation to creating this garden for Chelsea and will let you know should I be told the answer.)

(Update – 12 May 2011 – I have been sent the following info:  “Following on from London’s Chelsea Flower show, the Irish Sky Garden will be transported to Cork, and set within Cork’s Mid-Summer Festival from 11-26th June 2011. The pod along with certain elements of the garden will then be relocated and re-built alongside the River Lee as part of a 2m Euro development project to create a new park for the city, which the public will be able to visit free of charge from early July.”  A figure for the budget for the show garden specifically was not forthcoming: “…no designer ever discloses the cost of the design and build of their garden…” I am told the garden has come in on budget.)

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2011 9:37 pm

    Dear Sui, I have been most interested to read this account of DG’s Chelsea Garden. From what you write, I can see the connections between his proposed garden plan and the pleasure gardens of the past. Indeed, the whole concept made me think of Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire……a pleasure ground with flights of fancy that its owners and their guests could delight in if or when the conversation dried up. Perhaps the viewers of DG’s garden, including the worthy citizens of Cork, will be equipped with 3D spectacles just to complete the ‘out of body’ experience?!! I shall look forward to seeing it.

    • February 16, 2011 11:15 am

      Hi Edith. Yes, DG does like to surprise people and indulge in flights of fancy. He certainly gets people talking! He mentioned Painshill in his talk but agree, it’s probably more like Biddulph!

  2. February 16, 2011 11:05 am

    DG is a bit like Marmite- you either love him or hate him. Personally I think good on him for stirring up the usually safe, traditional Chelsea show.

    Design wise I don’t think his garden is great. But what the heck, it’ll give Alan Titchmarsh something to talk about.

    • February 16, 2011 11:17 am

      Agree – he does seem to polarise people. I generally don’t mind too much what he does but I don’t love it in the way I love, say, the gardens that Tom S-S creates for Chelsea.

  3. February 16, 2011 11:31 am

    Thank goodness you were there yesterday to give us this full account. I realised too late there were some talks to go to.

    • February 16, 2011 12:04 pm

      Glad to be of service! I didn’t realise there were talks on either. You have Ann-Marie Powell to thank! Bumped into Matthew Appleby from HortWeek at the show and even he didn’t know there was anything going on until last minute – and that was only because he wanted to interview someone and they mentioned they would be talking and why didn’t he come along. Not sure what happened with the RHS press office on this occasion – malfunction or they just didn’t want anyone to know?!

      • February 16, 2011 9:37 pm

        They were hidden in the corner weren’t they? Too bad – seeing the show’s theme was about design, you’d think it would have been mentioned in the blurb somewhere.

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