Posted 24th Aug 2015
We spoke with TV personality and garden designer Diarmuid Gavin to find out how he got started and his top tips on caring for the allotment and gardening in a small space
How did you get started in gardening?
To earn a badge in Cub Scouts I had to germinate a plant from a seed. A neighbour of my parents, who weren't dedicated gardeners, helped me sew a packet of cress seed. I couldn't believe how fast they turned from hard little grains into viable sprouting plants and I was instantly hooked.
Can anyone take up gardening or do you think you need a green thumb from the start?
Gardening is for everybody in our part of the world, it's within our tradition and genetics. For everyone, at some stage in our life we become amazed by the creativity of it.
What advice would you give to those with only a small outdoor space to help make the most of it?
Even small spaces can become mini-Eden’s. Get the basics right: the right plants for the space, a good growing medium, some food and regular watering. Vertical gardening, where ornamental or vegetable plants are grown on structures hung on a wall, may be the answer. But a good range of trees, shrubs and perennial plants can be grown in pots and containers as long as you keep them irrigated, fed and top dress the pots each year using fertile soil.
What are your must-have gardening tools you wouldn't be without?
Long handled spades, shovels and forks are essential for me as they are easier on the back. Other essentials include a wheelbarrow to shift stuff around the plot and a watering can to give everything a good soak after planting.
For those of our readers starting up their own allotment for the first time, what advice would you give to help grow and manage it successfully?
Get the soil right and get to know your soil; start by digging. This will give you an understanding of what you are dealing with. Condition the soil by adding a load of organic humus material, preferably very well-rotted farmyard manure. Start with easy crops; potatoes are a great one and they will help break down the soil. Lettuce will provide a crop every 6-8 weeks, and you can also grow herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme as they are very easy.
What's your favourite time of year in the garden and why?
Spring is my favourite: buds bursting, leaves appearing, the cacophony of flowers which seems to be never ending brightens up even the dullest of places. As a gardener, I find the season exhilarating.
What's your own garden like?
My garden is a work in progress; it's getting there month by month. I'm a great believer in the flow between house and garden so I took my starting point as the architecture. I have burst through the walls, placed glass openings where there was concrete and built a New Orleans style veranda across the back of the house, clad the cast iron supporting columns in wonderful climbers such as wisteria, vines, and Jasmine, and down below created a stepped terraced effect from the sloping site with broad-leaved architectural plants to look down on, such as Schefflera Taiwaniana.
What are you working on at the moment? Any exciting projects coming up?
I have lots of exciting projects on at the moment: I am working with Wickes on their new ‘Outdoor Living’ campaign and step-by-step guides on how to build your own BBQ and raised herb bed, creating gardens in the South of France and Monaco, designing the exterior of a commuter bus featuring gardens I have created, working on a TV series with a wonderful gardener, Helen Dillon, and planning an exciting show garden for somewhere next year.
By Natalie Crofts
Images courtesy of Luke PD Freeman