New Innovators: Polytunnels Ireland

Allen Garrard: he now employssix people and is moving tobigger premises

Allen Garrard: he now employssix people and is moving tobigger premises

 

“Rain stopped play” is a familiar term to cricketers but it will also strike a chord with Irish gardeners and bar enthusiasts who have cooked one too many burgers holding up a brolly.

Galway-based furniture designer Allen Garrard can’t stop the rain but he has set himself the ambitious goal of “creating a new type of garden for Ireland that takes account of the weather – particularly the wind and rain”.

In Garrard’s mind the perfect solutions for the Irish climate are structures that allow people to be outdoors but protected from the worst of the elements.

So far he has designed and launched two products on this theme, geodesic domes and hot houses that can be used as places to grow plants or vegetables, as entertaining space or as an outdoor “indoor” play area for children.

He is also designing pergolas and other garden structures that have open sides to give the outdoor experience but roofs to keep the rain off.

Garrard originally trained in furniture design in Nottingham, but ended up in London working in IT. Burnt out and in need of a change, he moved to the west of Ireland 12 years ago with his wife and young son.

His first business was a decking company that prospered during the boom. When the economy crashed the demand for decking went with it and Garrard had to reinvent himself.

The downturn spurred a revival in “grow your own” and Garrard decided there was an opportunity in polytunnels. His original intention was to import them but this proved impractical so he set up Polytunnels Ireland in 2009 and began making them with support from Galway City Enterprise Board and AIB bank. The start up costs were in the order of €15,000.

Schools became good customers for the polytunnels but Garrard took the view that a stronger structure would better withstand the inevitable wear and tear.

He began looking at polycarbonate as a potentially more robust material and, as a big fan of geodesic dome creator Buckminster Fuller, decided on a dome shape. His Geo Dome took a year to design and was launched at the Bloom gardening festival in 2012. The Hot House followed in 2013.

“Both products are made from pressure-treated timber, galvanised steel and polycarbonate sheeting and are strong enough to withstand all weather conditions. The polycarbonate also absorbs the sun’s heat which creates a perfect environment inside for planting or relaxing,” Garrard says.

To date Garrard has focused on growing his business organically. It now employs six people and is moving to bigger premises. The company will soon have a flagship installation at the Burren Nature Sanctuary where one of its 40ft domes is being erected.

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