Diarmuid Gavin goes to pot with concept of city gardens

In a time of renting and mobility, why not tend your plants in transportable vessels?

A portable garden, filled with potted plants, is a wise way to grow, if you rent or plan to move house, says award-winning landscaper and Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Diarmuid Gavin, who is on a mission to get the nation growing.

With almost 30 per cent of households in Ireland currently renting, the idea of a garden is changing to suit our new, more mobile needs. But there is very little advice on what to do if you're renting and would like to take your garden with you when you leave.

Gavin has some stylish and cost-effective solutions that will appeal to those operating to a tight budget. He has partnered with GroMor to offer advice on how home owners, renters and their kids can get more in touch with their gardens, and transported his 2016 Chelsea Flower Show creation, Garden of Pure Imagination, to Pembroke Square at Dundrum Town Centre.

The design is a mechanical fairy-tale set-up that, much like the ballerina-topped jewellery box of old, comes alive every 15 minutes to chime the time, creating an audible clock and garden within the shopping space.

It is a feat of engineering that was the talk of last year’s Chelsea Flower Show but what isn’t apparent is that all the planting, including the 1.5m high topiary bay trees, and even the 9m high Hornbeam tree at the back, is set into pots rather than planted directly into the ground. The pots are held in place by a steel frame, built by Nugent’s Manufacturing in Naas, with a blanket of soil set on top to give the illusion of ground planting. The bay trees that frame the pond centrepiece were grown in Bruges and so do well in a northern climate and everything can be packed up at the end of its stay and moved to another destination.

Power of pots

The show garden illustrates just how large scale you can design a potted garden. Gavin is a big believer in the power of pots to transform any space into a verdant haven.

His definition of the word is very broad. “Anything can become a pot,” he says. “You can be imaginative without having a big budget. Oil drums, cut down to different sizes using an angle grinder or a metal saw, so that you can play with proportions and scale, and then painted in pastel colours, is just one way to create instant impact.” It’s also a smart way to keep plants like bamboo that are often used as privacy screens under control, he says.

Catering-size tins of tomatoes, olives or cooking oil can all be used similarly and Gavin illustrates this to good effect at his pop-up shop in Dundrum, beside the show garden. He suggests asking your local trattoria or chipper for their empties to get free vessels.

Galvanised metal agricultural troughs are another option but, as with all his other suggestions, you will have to drill holes into the bases to allow drainage so that plant roots don’t rot. He recommends layering each vessel with gravel before filling the pots with a peat-free compost. He likes the one made by Tyrone-based Westland and adds charcoal in some instances to clear any build-up of gases.

For an edgy urban vibe he loves to use hessian bags, the kind that mini-skip providers supply, and again groups different sizes together. “Go wild,” he says. “Scatter them with packets of wild flower seeds – the soil doesn’t’ even need to be top class.” If you do this next March you will have poppies and cornflowers in eight weeks.

Agapanthus, the lily of the Nile, is a plant that thrives better in a pot than in the ground, and they can look good in urns at the foot or the top of a set of steps. And hydrangea, once considered an old lady plant, is transformed when set into terracotta urns.

Dustbin plants

Galvanised dustbins are another easy option. He recalls gardener Helen Dillon using them to great effect in her Ranelagh home 30 years ago. "The battleship grey of the bins contrasts with the Willy Wonka structure of the tulips." It's a style he returns to again and again.

Garden centres have finally realised the allure of well-designed pots and are beginning to sell plants in more decorative containers. Triotunia is a cool white 13cm plastic pot with printed petunias on its outside and planted with three big trailing flowers from cuttings. These look good as is and need no further adornment and cost €8.99 at Gavin’s pop-up shop. Arboretum in Co Carlow sells a very cool range of mini terracotta pots – perfect for cactuses for as little as €1.99 a piece – and tiny primrose yellow pots, perfect for seedlings, for €1 each. Soft fashionable pink and grey coloured pots make great homes for succulents.

Plant stands are back in fashion and look great on terraces and balconies. Mid-century style planters on stands will help create a sense of space on the smallest of terraces or balconies because the pots are elevated. You can find really wonderfully affordable ones at Ikea, The Garden Shop and UK-based West Elm.

Raised beds

Raised beds can also be built for very little if you enlist the help of a good carpenter and ask him or her to design portable options to house your vegetable patch so you can take your market garden with you when you move on.

Another option is potato crates, big wooden boxes used by farmers to grade their potato crop. He got the ones that form part of his plant stand display at the Dundrum shop from the market garden heartland of Rush, north Co Dublin, and has painted them in pastel colours. At home you could fill these with soil and plant carrots, cabbages, potatoes, lettuce and spinach, which will be ready in six weeks, but be mindful that these are too big to transport once they have been filled with soil.

A portable alternative is to use old hessian sacks to grow or even car and tractor tyres – the latter have been used almost as folk art on farms the length and breadth of the country for decades and are often painted in bright colours. Left plain their black rubber attracts the sun.

For more tips and advice on getting growing, visit The Garden Shop at Pembroke Square, Dundrum Town Centre. Dundrum.ie; Gromor.ie; and diarmuidgavindesigns.co.uk

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