Files detail project’s growing problems

THE idea for a contemporary garden in Cork was the brainchild of William Gallinsky, the former director of the Cork Midsummer Festival.

His original dream in 2009 was to see 10 show gardens dotted around the city in time for the 2010 festival.

But over time, the idea was refined down to just one iconic garden — an international attraction upon which a horticultural tourism product could be based.

“To that end, Diarmuid Gavin was approached. It is difficult to see anyone else fitting the bill,” Mr Gallinsky wrote, in an email which was released yesterday under Freedom of Information legislation.

He contacted Diarmuid Gavin Designs in December 2009 and the idea was fleshed out over the next few months — resulting in the Avatar-inspired Irish Sky Garden.

By June 2010, Mr Gavin had discussed with Mr Gallinsky the idea of exhibiting the garden at the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show.

Cork Midsummer Festival wrote a funding application to Fáilte Ireland’s Capital Awards section which eventually led to Fáilte Ireland agreeing to fund 83% of the project up to a maximum of €1.9 million, with Cork City Council contributing 17% of the costs, up to maximum of €406,000.

Phase one was to be the delivery of the project in Chelsea.

Phase two was to be the transfer of the garden to Cork for temporary display at Emmet Place for the 2011 Midsummer Festival, before its installation as a permanent feature at what was billed the ‘Mardyke Gardens’.

By August last year, Mr Gavin had discussed the garden proposal with the Royal Horticultural Society, organisers of the Chelsea Flower Show.

By November 2010, Mr Gavin engaged Arup engineers to begin work on the flying pod.

But by January 2011, the problems were beginning to emerge, FOI documents show.

There are hundreds of emails on file, firing back and forth between city officials, Diarmuid Gavin Designs, and Fáilte Ireland, complaining about lack of communication, lack of clarity, and concerns about compliance with public procurement issues relating to the pay out of public money.

City officials were expressing concerns about a lack of design detail on the Mardyke garden element of the project.

They refused to sanction the pay out of public money until those elements were agreed.

Diarmuid Gavin, who was bearing the cost of the project to date, accused city officials of stalling, and refusing to pay out grants.

His garden went on to win gold at the Chelsea Flower Show last May.

Its flying pod was shipped back to Cork some weeks later and placed in storage in the city’s docklands.

Its plants, shrubs and tree are in storage in a nursery in Kildare.

After a complete breakdown in relations, correspondence between both sides is now in the hands of lawyers.

City Hall unveiled plans two months ago for the Sky Garden to be incorporated, in some form, into the city’s historic Fitzgerald’s Park, which is poised to undergo a major refurbishment.

Tenders for that project have now been advertised.

The work is due to get under way early in the new years.

Diarmuid Gavin Designs is entitled to tender for the contract, or it could be subcontracted to work on the Sky Garden element alone.

Diarmuid Gavin won an RDS Gold Award in 1991 and 1993, a bronze medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1995, and silver-guilt medal in 2004 and a silver-guilt medal in 2007. He has built up an impressive media profile, contributing to the BBC’s flagship gardening programme, Gardener’s World, Home Front, and Gardens Through Time. He also worked with RTÉ on its I Want a Garden Show and on Dirty Old Town.

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