This much I know: Diarmuid Gavin

Diarmuid Gavin, Garden designer, in conversation with Hilary Fennell

By the time I left school I knew I wanted to create gardens, but gardens that were different.

I’d always loved design, and the outdoors... but I also appreciated pop culture and wanted to add a dollop of that into garden schemes.

There were two other career possibilities: I would have liked to be a potter... or a chef. I worked as a commie chef in a Dublin restaurant immediately after leaving school and loved every moment of it. But a job in the gardening sector came up and I knew it was for me.

The media work came completely out of the blue. I created a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1996 and was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh on the BBC’s Gardeners’ World programme. My world changed overnight. Within a year I’d made programmes for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and the emerging Channel 5. Seemingly I had what they were looking for, whatever that was!

I was a painfully shy child and that didn’t leave me until well into my thirties. I was socially awkward, withdrawn, and a big dreamer.

My earliest memory is of Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, on holidays, and at the circus. The following morning conversations amongst the adults in our caravan, saying British troops had arrived in Northern Ireland – and then we fled back home. Very dramatic for a little fella.

So far I have been unable to achieve that elusive work life balance. My work is my passion and I live it every waking moment. It’s difficult for those around me.

I am extremely disciplined and determined. I’m single minded. If I have an idea that excites me I won’t give up until I’ve tried my best to achieve it.

The best advice I ever received was from a friend from Achill Island called Orla Sweeney who once told me that I was well brought up, I was mannerly and pleasant and that these were good attributes to have in businesses. She told me never to forget that. And I haven’t.

The traits I most admire in other people are honesty, loyalty, humour and creativity.

I’ve lots of faults but being too headstrong has caused problems.

My idea of happiness is watching my daughter blossom.

My idea of misery is being stuck in a rut that I can’t escape from.

If I could be reborn as someone else for a day I’d be the fashion designer Paul Smith. He invited me to visit his HQ last year and he was like Willy Wonka in his factory, utterly fascinating and engaging and endlessly excited by ideas and possibilities.

If money was not an issue I’d do exactly the same as I’m doing right now – but I’d travel first class through life.

If I could change one thing in Irish society, I’d complete the separation of church and state.

My biggest challenge in life so far has been managing situations which upset me and cause anxiety.

If I could pass on one piece of advice about life to the next generation I’d say be kind, treat people well and look after each other, especially on social media. I’ve great faith in the next generation.

My main skill is that I have a very persuasive personality. I can bring people along for the journey.

One thing I didn’t learn in school, which I wish I had done so, is all about sex... .and nothing about guilt.

My greatest fear is letting those nearest to me down.

I’m a lark - a morning person - I love light.

So far life has taught me that we each need to find our own route through it and make the most of it.

The Dundrum Garden of Pure Imagination, by Diarmuid Gavin recently launched in Dundrum Town Centre . The spectacular garden, which was one of the highlights of the 2016 Chelsea Flower Show, emulates pure childhood fantasy and will be on display in Dundrum Town Centre’s Pembroke Square over the summer.


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