Celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin always knew gardening was for him. After seeing the magical gardens in the 1971 classic ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, he was “utterly enchanted” and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to get to build things like that? So that’s how my interest was stirred”.
The garden designer has become a familiar face on our TV screens, appearing on programmes such as BBC’s Surprise Gardeners, Gardener’s World, Home Front and the Great British Garden Revival. He is currently appearing on RTE’s I Want A Garden. However, this aspect of his job “took a long time to get used to”.
“Television companies used to tell me I was a natural fit and I could do it but I didn’t know what it was that I could do. Never having been successful at anything in my life up to that point, all of a sudden, for people to tell you, ‘You have a skill’, and then when you’re getting the notoriety that goes with that. It does take a while to get used to but at this stage it’s great.”
He adds that on-screen work also helped him overcome his shyness. “It’s a great privilege to go places and for people to know something about you. I was desperately shy and that helps with that enormously. I do enjoy it now.”
Next week however the garden designer will be stepping away from the screen onto the stage, when he’ll take Galwegians on a romp through his adventures in the wonderful world of gardening. During a live show at the Town Hall, Diarmuid will reveal some mischievous antics at the Chelsea Flower Show and share stories about the history of outdoor design around the globe.
With a career spanning 34 years, this is the first time the veteran gardener has hosted a tour like this. “I do a lot of talking and I do a lot of lectures around the world in all sorts of different countries and, I won’t say I was getting bored with them, but I felt I wasn’t moving on so I wanted to challenge myself,” he explains.
“I realised that the talks I was giving were popular with gardeners but also very popular with people who had no interest and were just being dragged along by their wife or by their husband or whatever and they had to sit through it.”
Describing his show as “an evening of fun in the beds and borders”, Diarmuid says, “Parts are quite humorous, there are some comic tragic elements and there’s amazing stories about people who have created gardens right the way around the world and in Galway here. There’s a wonderful woman called Lorna McMahon in Galway.”
The show will include some tales from the popular Chelsea Flower Show, which this year he has opted not to attend. Instead, the gardener is bringing his Chelsea Flower Show award-winning garden The Garden of Pure Imagination to Dundrum Town Centre in Dublin, where it will remain in place until September. The mechanical garden is inspired, in part, by his childhood favourite ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’.
Reflecting on his career to date, he says, “I think anybody in gardening is in it because they’re passionate about it. It’s a tough old career to have; long hours, the pay often isn’t great, so if you decide you’re gonna do it, you only do it because you love it.”
Following his tour, it seems the rest of the year will be just as busy for the Irish gardener.
“We’re doing a park for the National Trust in Newcastle in England, that’s in the Queen Mother’s old family home, and a lot of work in China too so there’s lots going on. It’s very, very busy.”
So, after spending all day tending to other people’s gardens, one would wonder whether Diarmuid finds looking after his own a bit of a chore. Not at all, he says.
“When you come home and get to do it, it’s magic,” he says. “I absolutely love every moment of it because that’s when you really relax.”
‘An Evening With Diarmuid Gavin’ takes place in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway on Friday 9 June at 8pm. Tickets are on sale from www.tht.ie or by calling the box office on 091-569777. Tickets are €20.