Shades of summer: Bring back colour to the garden, says Super Garden judge

With visions of Mediterranean summers, there’s hardly a garden in the country that hasn’t been transformed into an outdoor living space supported by decking, patios and raised beds. But Spanish-born horticulturist Monica Alvarez is not impressed.

“There is too much of a culture of having a large patio and concrete walls. The Irish are very into grey. Why is everything grey when you can actually put colour on to it?”

A garden that has too much hard landscaping “doesn’t really move”, says the Super Garden judge.

From Valladolid, she has been living in Ireland since 1994. After studying at the Botanic Gardens — “I never looked back” — she went on to be the head gardener at Luttrellstown Castle.

In 2002 she started a course in horticulture in Dundrum College of Further Education. “I was able to do my two preferred things in life which are gardening and teaching.”

Another source of happiness is her recent marriage. Last December, the 48-year-old tied the knot with Dubliner Declan in Valencia. “I did cry a little bit — but it was a good cry.”

Super Garden, starts on RTÉ One, Thursday, April 25, 8.30pm

What shape are you in?

As a child I was always running, climbing trees, playing hide and seek — we had our own little Olympics in our neighbourhood. Then when I became a gardener I built up a lot of muscle with digging and pruning.

Becoming a teacher didn’t stop me — I bring my students to the gardens I’ve designed and I dig with them and I double dig

Every three or four days, I go for a 30-minute run to keep the heart rate going well. I have a chin bar in my house. I do seven chin-ups every four or five days, so my muscles in my arms don’t forget. In the summer months, I’m very active. My husband and I go up the mountains on bicycles. Also, I would swim daily. I’m a bit of a fish.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I love porridge in the morning with things like soft fruits and nuts and honey - I’m a bit of a Winne The Poo. During the day, I tend to eat something like an apple or pear or a yoghurt. Then when I come home I would cook in the Spanish style — lentils and kidney beans a bit of rice.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

Tayto Cheese & Onion crisps. And I like red Rioja wine when I’m out for dinner.

What would keep you awake at night?

If I correct exams and I’m looking at the computer and exposed to blue light I’ve noticed that I get restless. It’s seasonal.

How do you relax?

I have a contemplative mind. I like staring into the horizon. I like indulging in my own thoughts, questions about life, the universe, God, whatever. Questions that don’t have easy answers. Nature relaxes me a lot.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

I would invite people who don’t have a problem expressing themselves. I feel it is sad when people are so aware of taboo subjects and they prefer not to discuss certain things because of fear.

What’s your favourite smell?

The scent of a rose.

As a horticulturist, I feel very disturbed when I look at a beautiful rose but then when I approach it there is no scent

Where I grew up we were surrounded by roses and every time and every time I smell a proper rose it brings me back to my childhood flowers.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

I have a roundish figure and I like that. But if I gain two kilos I’d like a smaller rear end. I like to keep it round as the result of muscle, not fat. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s a part of me I’m unhappy about.

What traits do you least like in others?

When people feel they have a right to be upset at others. If people disagree it’s good to express it but there is a right way and a wrong way to express that. I don’t like lying either. It doesn’t matter if it hurts, truthfulness is something you should always welcome.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

Sometimes I can be too black and white in terms of my viewpoint — there is obviously room for other colours in the rainbow. I see it in my brothers very clearly — I don’t see it that clearly in myself. But I’m good at acknowledging it whenever people point it out.

Do you pray?

Yes, I believe in God.

What would cheer up your day?

A positive attitude. I like when people see the good in life. In spite of the difficulties, they can take it with a pinch of salt and that’s refreshing.

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