Forget about reality shows or even the soaps — Super Garden is where it’s at for me right now. It has everything: rivalry, humour, suspense and, this week, guru-tastic words of homespun wisdom on avoiding stress while delivering a must-watch masterclass in the art of delegation.
Each episode of the RTÉ series stars one of five garden designers rattling their rakes as they vie for a show-garden spot at Bord Bia’s Bloom garden festival in 2021. But the spotlight also falls on their fellow competitors as they peer over walls or grab a shovel and give a hand. Love Island? What’s that?
To date, few played cameo roles so intriguingly as Fran Byrne. His quips to other contestants about their efforts and giddy bursts of laughter floating over the fence left an impression as we watched the first three entrants, Dermot Melia, Tara Linnane and Mark Hoey, in action on their patches.
Then came Fran’s own turn tonight — to go from hurling on the ditch to creating his own ditches as it were.
His laid-back approach was more fun than I ever could have expected. Someone please give Fran his own garden show… I don’t care if the designs aren’t on schedule, I’d tune in just to hear his unique commentary on life.
If you haven’t been following it already, this year’s show is set in a new housing development in a small village called Rowlestown, North County Dublin. Each gardener gets an identical garden as their blank canvas. Competing alongside each other for three weeks they also help each other complete their garden designs.
Fran, from Rush, Co Dublin, is the second-last designer to feature. Aged 60, he has over 40 years’ experience in landscaping. “My carefree attitude comes from years of different things that happened to me and I have come to believe that there was no need to have worried about most of the things I maybe was worried about,” he explains at the start of the show.
Having met the homeowners and heard their requirements, Fran creates a bold design he called La Vista mixing three separate styles: contemporary, Moorish-influenced, and woodland.
Fran’s interest in gardening developed at a young age inspired by his father Johnie who worked in the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. At the age of 12 he started working in gardens part-time. Fran is a father of six children ranging from 16 to 33 and his youngest son Jake joined him during the garden build in Rowlestown.
Fran’s chilled-out vibe is the hallmark of his approach. Even the judges’ vocal concern that the garden was behind schedule days before its unveiling failed to make a dent.
When I see Gary Graham, Bloom manager and chairman of the Super Garden judges, approach the gardeners every week, I feel a dart of naughty-chair-outside-the-principal’s-office terror.
Somehow Fran reverses this natural order of things. “When I walked in and saw what he wanted to do I felt stressed,” a visibly flummoxed Gary Graham says to camera.
But Fran’s reaction? “Sure, what’s the point of worrying about it?” Yet Gary continues to worry. “There are a lot of big questions. It’s like he’s making it up as he goes along.” Yep, that’s precisely Fran’s philosophy. “I just go with it and see how it flows,” he says.
Later, it seems as if Fran has finally started to feel the pressure as he speaks of staying late every night to work on it — until he adds gleefully: “But not tonight!” Similarly, as the camera pans over Fran, his family, and fellow contestants toiling to complete the project, Fran pauses, and declares: “Time for tea.” A burst of bad weather at a critical point elicits this response: “I’ll go home.” His fellow contestant Dermot pauses as he works on Fran’s garden to joke: “You can email us later on, we’ll tell you how it’s going.” The wry voiceover verdict on the neighbourly help from his spade-wielding fellow contestants? “Unfortunately for them, Fran is not feeling up to digging.” To be fair to Fran, during the episode his ongoing battle with emphysema is clear.
But overall, as the Rowlestown Church bell tolls for Fran’s La Vista garden two days before judgement he says: “I’m not worried. If I start worrying about it I will start stressing myself and that’s when the problems start.” Having applied to Super Garden last year but not made the cut, participating is a big deal for Fran, he says: “Life is weird. I think it brings you into different situations, but it does give you second chances, I think Super Garden is my second chance.” TRAVEL INSPIRATION Fran met his wife Myriam in her homeland of Chile 10 years ago and they married in 2012. Extensive travel across Europe, South America and Egypt has given Fran a wealth of ideas for garden design. Fran’s seating area for Super Garden has been inspired by a visit to Chile where every town is based on a central square with a water feature and seating area surrounded by trees.
Their verdict? Fran’s design is really a dream come true for the family so he’s already a winner in their eyes. Judge Gary concludes at one point: “This could be a complete mess or it could be an eclectic masterpiece.” I’d go with the latter — and I’m not just talking about Fran’s garden design.