Diarmuid Gavin is an award winning garden designer and television presenter. He has presented gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show on nine occasions from 1995 to 2016, winning a number of medals, including gold in 2011. He has also authored or co-authored at least ten gardening-related books.
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Written by Diarmuid Gavin.
Many of us renewed our relationship with our gardens, with lockdowns leading to new engagements with our outdoor spaces. So at the start of a new year, it’s logical that we may wish to re-evaluate what we have and begin to enhance or reinvent our plots. It’s a back-to-basics approach, examining what’s important to us and understanding the steps which need to be taken to create our ideal garden.
This week I’m opening my gardening notebook to rediscover the step-by-step guide to what we all may need to consider. It’s my gardening equivalent of a cook’s essential storecupboard items.
And it starts with making time for reflection. Soon we’ll be on the spring season treadmill... digging, feeding, pruning and planting. But without planning, we can’t guide our plots to the place we would wish them to be. January is a good month to plan — it’s a time of resolutions, a time of relative quiet in the garden... plenty of space for thought.
In fact, going into the garden now can do more damage than good because if your soil is soggy, there’s a danger that you will compact it traipsing back and forth. So, relax, get out your notebook and jot down your observations.
What to think about:
1. Where you live and what your local climate is like. We are lucky to have a relatively mild climate with few extremes and can grow a lot of plants that have originated all over the world. Nonetheless there is a considerable difference between the mild but windy coastal climes of the south and west of Ireland and some parts of the midlands, which can get a bit warmer in summer, but also noticeably colder in winter, than other areas. These present different challenges and opportunities.
2. The aspect of your garden — is it open and sunny or shady and overlooked? Remember, there is no point in battling against prevailing conditions. If it’s too shady for the big flower garden, you can still achieve beauty and interest using plants that will flourish in partial light. Note where the sun is at different times of the day and year.
Transplanting potted roses
3. Soil — this is the most important thing. Understand what type of soil you have and work to improve it. This will be the best garden investment you make. Healthy soil is the basis of a productive garden. If you can analyse what you have, you can understand what you need to do to improve it and what will grow best. It also means that where you want to grow productive plants such as fruit or flowers, or put on an abundant display of foliage, these areas will need investment in the form of digging in stuff that’s good: organic matter.
4. Finally, dream about what you like. Understand the type of garden that you love, that’s appropriate for the above situations and suitable for your circumstances, budget and time available for maintenance. Is it time to declutter? Sometimes the answers are easier than you expect. If you don’t want a complicated plot, look at the line and shape. If you would like to make your garden more low-maintenance, consider removing finicky features such as rockeries, which can be very challenging to maintain once weeds get in. Simplify by replacing scalloped borders with one big flowing line. Styles that are complex can be very rewarding but their implementation and maintenance can be hard going. Cottage gardens, New Perennial style, and large collections of pots and containers look great but need a lot of attention and not a little knowledge. It may be easier to manage simple, contemporary ideas that use a few materials, strong lines and shapes, and plants that stand out at different times of the year.