Diarmuid Gavin’s Dunnes deal: How the seed was sown
The TV gardener’s plantation-style home and American travels inspired a joint venture
Diarmuid Gavin at his own garden in Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Where else would you expect garden designer Diarmuid Gavin to live but in a plantation-style home. No pun intended: the TV presenter and Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner has transformed his Co Wicklow home, turning what he calls a bog-standard house into an architecturally interesting abode whose antebellum-like design could have been transplanted from the Deep South.
He has completely reimagined the detached property, one of a small number of luxury units built in an estate in Co Wicklow, overlooking the Sugarloaf mountain. He wanted to open the house to the view and got the blessing of his neighbours to apply for planning to build a wrap-around balcony on to the back of the property, using cast-iron pillars salvaged from Jervis Street Hospital when construction work on the shopping centre had started. He paid about €200 per beam.
The windows in every room upstairs have been supplanted by glazed doors that open out to the 2m-wide platform that runs the width of the property and where the family – his wife, Justine; and their daughter – do most of their living. They have a dining table and chairs and even bring out rugs, souvenirs brought home by Justine’s late mother, Terry Keane, from her extensive travels.
Underfoot are larch planks sourced from a Wicklow sawmill and the corrugated steel roofing amplifies the sound of the rain when it falls, something Gavin relishes.
Philodendron and wisteria climb the pillars and balustrades and from up here you’re looking down on all manner of growth.
He fell in love with the ice cream-coloured Adirondack-style loungers while working in Venice Beach, California, when television company Freemantle brought him out to be a judge on a reality TV gardening show. The show didn’t air but the chairs form part of his latest venture, a partnership with Dunnes Stores, an idea that grew roots on a visit to New York just days after President Trump had been elected.
He was staying over a plant shop called Green Fingers, in Nolita, run by Japanese plant artist and creative director Satoshi Kawamoto, who is known for his secret indoor garden designs and for his installation work for fashion brands Filson and Madewell and trendy big Apple eatery Le Turtle. The youthful clientele fascinated Gavin. “I thought, if those people were interested in plants, then everything had changed,” he says of his latest eureka moment. The fact that American research confirmed that millennials had an increased interest in the pastime – five of the six million Americans who took up gardening that year, 2016, were in this demographic – confirmed his observations.
“Gardening has become a young person’s obsession. They want to feel close to nature and those who live in apartments where they’re not allowed to own a pet are choosing to nurture greenery.”
On the flight back from New York, he drafted a pitch, contacted his graphic designer via wifi from the sky, and on landing cold-called Anne Heffernan, Margaret Heffernan’s daughter, and one of two family members to have been appointed directors of all the Dunnes companies last year, to see if she might be interested in getting into the boutique garden centre business.
It took a while for them to get back to him, but the fruits of his efforts are now set up in a nursery in Dunnes Stores’ head office, on South Great George’s Street in Dublin, where they are being watered, with some varities kept under ultraviolet lamps to speed up germination and to strengthen them.
Back to the start
The range will be sold with a difficulty-to-grow rating and there are terrariums of all sizes. This was the first style of gardening Gavin ever explored, making them from demijohn bottles, the kind used by home brewers, and selling them at the Blackberry Market that used to take place at the weekends in Rathmines.
His lush Co Wicklow garden, set on about a third of an acre, is the final resting place of many of his creative ideas; the corrugated steel shed that formed part of his pop-up shop at Dundrum Town Centre last year, now a man shed for Gavin; three ponds set in tiered terraces, the fish stocks have been devoured by a greedy heron with the revolving bay trees that were a feature of his 2016 Chelsea Flower Show design soon to be planted.
Adding the balconies has cut down on the amount of light you get into the rooms, he says, but the pay-off is that you get to live life outdoors and on an elevated plane, where your cares and worries just disappear.
Diarmuid launches his first joint venture shop with Dunnes Stores, a pop-up that opens in the George’s Street store next week, which will give a flavour of the concept, which will then be rolled out in seven or eight shops in the next seven or eight weeks. It will feature good coffee, good music and greenery of all sorts.