A garden design competition for the formerly homeless is truly inspiring

The approach Manon Border Chavene took when coming up with a garden design for the annual Kilsaren Student Competion was to put herself into the mindset of someone who was homeless — but who had just received a a house.

A garden design competition for the formerly homeless is truly inspiring

When imagining how they must feel, she concentrated her garden plan on that sense of security: “I thought I might appreciate intimacy, having my own space in the garden, and the possibility to grow my own food, not just from an economic perspective but also to feel anchored somewhere and to benefit from the self-satisfaction that gardening gives you.”

The concept made her the winner of the Kilsaran Home Student Garden Competition 2017.

Kilsaran, which produces a range of hard landscaping materials for gardens, have been running this competition for the last four years and it has generated some fantastic designs over that time.

Last year’s winner went on to work with Diarmuid Gavin on his show garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

This year they wanted to broaden the brief to students with an engaging and worthwhile project, namely the Peter McVerry Trust and its project in Athy, Co Kildare, where permanent homes for previously homeless people are being built.

Diarmuid Gavin was once again the head judge, and emphasis was put on the suitability of the design to the new residents and the various requirements that they would have.

Manon’s design was chosen because of her overall concept. She divided up the space into individual areas to suit the needs of the residents and showed creativity and a flair for design in the use of hard and soft landscaping products.

A student of the landscape Design Academy in Dublin, the win will see her proposed garden brought to life for the Peter McVerry Trust and she will receive a cheque for €3,000.

Celebrating the annual Kilsaran Home Student Garden competition were Michelle Jordan, Landscape design Academy of Dublin, David Remaud, College of Amenity Horticulture Botanic Gardens, gardener Diarmuid Gavin, Emma Ervine, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise and Manon Bordet Chavanel, Landscape Design Academy of Dublin, this year’s winner with her design for the Peter McVerry Trust houses in Athy. Picture: Maxwell
Celebrating the annual Kilsaran Home Student Garden competition were Michelle Jordan, Landscape design Academy of Dublin, David Remaud, College of Amenity Horticulture Botanic Gardens, gardener Diarmuid Gavin, Emma Ervine, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise and Manon Bordet Chavanel, Landscape Design Academy of Dublin, this year’s winner with her design for the Peter McVerry Trust houses in Athy. Picture: Maxwell

Kilsaran called on all students of horticulture, garden design, landscape architecture and other similar courses to get involved in the competition. This attracted a broad and mixed list of submissions and designs.

Mr Gavin spoke at the announcement of the winner and said: “We’re delighted for all the finalists, especially Manon. Judging this year’s competition was so difficult. The standard is going up every year but this year was exceptional.

“There was very little between first and fourth. We just felt Manon’s designed would be more sustainable and timeless for the people the McVerry Trust will be helping.”

Manon has achieved what she set out to — she has created a design which provides an area for intimacy and to be alone, but also incorporates a decent-sized grass area, important for those young enough to play ball and generally have fun in the garden.

A garden needs to be that, it needs to provide for all members of the family whether it’s the parents who may want to grow fruit and herbs, or the children who may want nothing more than an outdoor play room.

The lawn area is flanked by a substantial ‘wildflower’ area which looks lovely in the design. However, when real life takes over, it may well be colonised by the future sports stars as an extension of the grass.

When choosing the plants for the soft landscaping scheme, Manon paid particular attention to non-toxic plants and plants that are edible, but not forgetting the ornamental value that a garden must provide, she also focused on attributes such as flower colour, texture, foliage effect and scent to create a garden that provides interest throughout the year.

One of the features of her planting that I particularly like is the mixture of ornamental with edible plants.

Crocosmia is planted next to Rosa rugosa with sage and fennel and the extremely elegant tall grass, Panicum virgatum will look stunning next to the stately yet edible artichokes.

Manon has managed to create different zones in the same expanse of paving, carving out private seating areas next to communal spaces — and the kids aren’t forgotten with a giant outdoor chessboard built into the paved area.

There have been many pages written about gardening and the benefits it has in terms of therapy and overall mental health.

I have no idea of what it is to be homeless, and I don’t like to imagine the challenges and fears that being in that situation must involve, so it’s a positive to focus on the achievement of the Peter McVerry Tryst in providing homes and the overwhelming relief that must come when someone is lucky enough to be housed in this new facility in Athy.

I have no doubt that the garden and outdoor space, so well designed by Manon, will play an intricate part in making this facility home for the families that it serves.

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