Paul Martin could make this year’s Chelsea Flower Show our Italia ’90

The Irish have two hot shots at glory on Main Avenue for this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, writes Peter Dowdall.         

Paul Martin could make this year’s Chelsea Flower Show our Italia ’90

Gardening can be a very individual pursuit — the garden being the place to lose yourself amongst your thoughts.

Indeed, it’s a refuge in itself — a sought after place to take time out from the hustle and bustle, the trials and tribulations of the outside world.

Mundane tasks such as pruning and mowing the lawn become therapy in themselves, and as only a gardener can relate to, there is relaxation in weeding.

Mindfulness and relaxation is the theme for Paul Martin’s show garden to be created at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London in May of this year.

One of Ireland’s most internationally-decorated garden designers ever, Paul finds himself this year on Chelsea’s Main Avenue, a sure sign that a designer is being taken seriously on the world stage.

The show takes place from May 24 – 28 and is even bigger this year making it officially the biggest flower show in the world.

Even if it was never physically the biggest show, it’s always been Chelsea and no matter what anyone says, this is the show that matters, this is where every garden designer wants a gold.

Paul’s first Chelsea entry — all the way back in 2003 — won the People’s Choice award along with an RHS Silver Medal.

In the years since, his trophy cabinet has become positively cluttered with medals from Garden Heaven, Bloom, Hampton Court and in 2012, Paul became the first European garden designer to win a gold medal at the prestigious Singapore Garden Festival.

In keeping with the mindfulness theme Paul has gone with a subtle colour palette for the planting of this garden.

Rusty steel and limestone will be used throughout and that burnt, orange colour will be reflected in the planting.

This is a uniquely Irish entry to Chelsea. Bord na Mona are behind Paul using the event to showcase their new product range under the Bord na Mona Growise branding, The stone for the hard landscaping is coming from Mac Monagles in Donegal, and several other Irish companies too, including Schram Plants in Kildare, will be on board with Paul to ensure success for his work and for Irish horticulture in general.

Show gardens at Chelsea don’t come cheap with a spend of £250,000 being more of a starting figure for a Main Avenue exhibit, than an excessive budget.

To that end Vestra Wealth UK are once more Paul’s main sponsor and Bord na Mona of course will be supplying more than just compost, they will be digging deep financially too.

Nothing can be left to chance in a show garden at a venue as important as Chelsea. One discoloured leaf can be enough to cost the designer a gold medal, and whilst a Silver Gilt is also some achievement, nobody enters to win less than gold.

With big budgets involved, the stakes are high.

To that end, the plants that Paul will be using in his garden are already being carefully minded, wrapped in cotton wool (not literally), and being smothered with tlc at Schram Plants in Kildare.

The plants are being grown in a new Bord na Mona Growise compost at the nursery where they are being carefully minded and the designer’s team check on them every Friday and a team of four will be checking on them every day for the last few weeks before being shipped over to London SW3 for show week.

Having been involved in two silver gilt winning gardens at RHS Chelsea, I know the level of detail that has to be adhered to and I know how ruthless the judging process is.

Four assessment judges will pass an opinion on the garden to the committee which is made up of 15 experts in their individual areas, who will then cast their vote on each garden.

The individual gardens starts off at 100% and they are looking for areas in which to deduct points.

It is this ruthlessness which ensures such a high standard and makes Chelsea the international standard bearer for top design.

I believe that all gardens should be biodiversity gardens and not just labelled as such and I am heartened to see one of Europe’s top designers feels the same.

Paul hasn’t used ‘Round Up’ in over 4 years and feels that weeds can be controlled by ensuring the right choice of plants and planting a bit mor thickly.

His choice of plants will always be attractive to pollinators and his gardens in general will be beneficial to surrounding wildlife, conscious as he is of the benefits of using native tree and shrub species.

Paul’s backround is in building construction of which he says he has an innate knowledge and a passion for landscaping and gardening, fed even more by an education at the Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin, which has given him all the tools necessary to be a top designer.

Diarmuid Gavin is creating a garden for Harrod’s at this year’s Chelsea which makes it, to the best of my knowledge the first year that there will be two Irish designers on the Main Avenue.

While it may not create the hysteria of Italia 90 or even the Heineken Cup campaigns of recent years, this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show is something that all Irish people should have an interest in and keep an eye out for our standard bearers.


I asked Paul Martin what he does in his real life, outside of designing and building show gardens at the world’s top garden shows.

It must be hard to concentrate on landscaping a simple semi d in Cork or Dublin after the adrenaline rush of a top show.

Much of his work now is in the UK and the profile and reputation that comes with competing and succeeding at the top level means that he is primarily dealing with higher spending clients.

The difference between the two countries is, he says, is that being in the UK, when someone builds a million-pound house they are expecting to spend a hundred thousand or more on the garden, whereas in Ireland it can still be something of an afterthought with no budget set aside.

* I was very saddened to learn that after an EGM of Blackrock Flower Club recently the club has decided to close.

A lovely club, I always enjoyed any evening that I spoke there. Its demise highlights the challenge faced by all local clubs in getting members and regular visitors.

A great group of dedicated volunteers had kept BFC going for over 40 years.

I wish all involved the very best and who knows, perhaps its time may come again, I certainly hope so.

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