Over the garden fence: Irish celebrities open up their gardens

For Darina Allen it’s the pond at the end of her garden, for Donal Skehan and Trevor Sargent it’s their vegetable plots, and for Peter Kelly it’s his polythene tunnel. Ahead of Bloom, Áilín Quinlan peeks over the fence into the gardens and personal oases of four well-known Irish faces.

Donal Skehan Chef and author 

“I’ve got a busy life but it’s great fun and I really do enjoy it. I suppose it’s only in the last two years that things have become as crazy as they are.

“I am very lucky to live in the beautiful village of Howth which is beside the sea, and there are fantastic views and a cliff walk around where I live. I also enjoy spending time in my back garden where I grow a variety of vegetables. It’s a very important personal outdoor oasis. The world I’m in is very energetic and fast moving, I suppose, but in my garden I find that my mind tends to specifically focus on just one thing. This is really almost a meditation in itself because you are so focused on one task — there’s no phone, and it’s grand!”

Kitchen Hero Great Food for Less by Donal Skehan; Harper Collins €16.

Bloom, Ireland’s largest gardening, food and family event, will take place in the Phoenix Park Dublin during the June bank holiday weekend from Thursday, May 31 to Monday, June 4.

Darina Allen Chef and author

“When I need a break, I’ll generally take a walk down to the bottom of my garden where there’s a very pretty little pond.

“Just beside this pond is a little portico that I bought from an old house in Co Carlow years ago. The house itself was being demolished at the time, but I bought the portico because I thought it was lovely.

“It took me a while to get it all organised, but I brought it down here and set it up beside the pond.

“The portico has four stone pillars and it looks very like a very simple little stone temple. It stands beside the pond so it is reflected in the water, which is lovely.

“The pond has a very nice little fountain as well. I find that the sound of the water trickling from the fountain is soothing and quite restoring.

“The pond is actually quite a busy place — there are some very nice ducks and geese there, and as well, there’s a little seat where you can just sit and look around you.

“There’s also a little light by the pond — this comes on at night which means that you can quite happily sit there in the evening and reflect, or if you’re in the mood to meditate, you can do that also.

“It’s the kind of place where it is easy to let the thoughts of the day slip away.

“All around the edge of the pond are little water hyacinths, so I just sit there, listening to the birds and watching the antics of the squabbling ducks and geese and I let the stresses of the day all drift away and I am restored.

“You just feel this wonderful calmness washing over you.”

Darina Allen’s latest book, Irish Traditional Cooking is published by Gill and MacMillan €25

Peter Kelly Weddings by Franc

“It’s always go, go, go in this job, basically it’s madness. I’ve a new wedding dress label, and a new RTÉ series on Sunday nights which started at the beginning of May called Franc’s DIY Brides.

“On top of all that, I’m opening an academy at Glanworth Mill in Co Cork to teach people how to organise and design their own weddings but also everything from birthday parties to elegant dinners.

“My garden helps me to relax. My grandfather was a well-known gardener. I love gardening too, so I have my own garden in my house in Fermoy . One of my favourite places is the 30-foot polythene tunnel in my garden.

“I go there rain hail or snow and grow peaches, nectarines and four varieties of grape.

“It’s very aromatic in there — in fact my grandfather and I planted some of the vines together. He passed away last year at the age of 97. One of his vines was about 18 years old and it had been planted by my grandfather in my mother’s house in Courtmacsherry.

“I moved it up to my house in Fermoy last September. I was really hoping it would sprout and it did.

“I also recently built a tree house in the garden — you go up a spiral staircase that I got for about e40 and you can go down by zip wire. It’s a two-storey tree-house and my four children use it a lot.

“I like to go there too, I feel like I’m on their level and I have good chats with them there.”

In an exclusive video for the Irish Examiner Weekend, Peter Kelly speaks of his love for his garden and how he spends his leisure time at home in Fermoy, Co Cork.

Trevor Sargent Author and former Minister of State for Food and Horticulture

“My back garden serves as a personal refuge as well as what you might call, a food production area. I’m in the garden every day. I usually go there either early in the morning or late at night.

“The garden measures 20ft x 40ft, and it’s south-facing, which is nice. There’s a little bench between a fig tree and a pear tree, and that’s where I sit when I want to relax.

“When I sit, I generally reflect on the day ahead, and while I’m sitting there relaxing I’m also looking at the apple tree and the garden pond. The pond is actually quite busy at the moment, as it has tadpoles. I also look at the bird table and watch the birds coming and going.

“For me, generally, the garden provides empowerment, both as a personal refuge and also because it is where I grow a lot of my food.

“During the summer months I could be out in the garden as early as 6am — I’d usually be out there doing a job like some watering and just generally pottering around.

“I’d often be there again late in the evening to do a bit of hoeing and weeding, when it’s needed.

“The garden at my house in Balbriggan is also a major focus of my new book Trevor’s Kitchen Garden, because I grow a very large range of fruit and vegetables. The fruit includes apples, raspberries, black currants and plums and I also grow vegetables such as kale, cabbage, peas, beans, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, radishes and potatoes.”

Trevor’s Kitchen Garden by Trevor Sargent is published by Orpen Press, €18.99.


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