A new generation of gardeners has emerged from the pandemic. But now that the world has opened up again, will that change?
Not if plant man Paul Smyth is anything to go by.
Spending time on the phone with Paul, who splits his life between his native Carlow, his adopted Wales and Dublin, where he spends two days a week for work, is fun and frenetic.
He’s literally sprinting from garden to garden, hitting deadline after deadline on his busy horticultural schedule as we speak.
I think this mania for all things green is here to stay.
“Definitely. I see it right here in Dublin today. My phone went off. The interest in gardening hasn’t gone away,” says Paul.
“It has certainly been bigger than ever since Covid. It’s become a hobby for so many people and the thing about gardening is that once you’ve been bitten by the gardening bug, it has you.
“Covid has created so many new gardeners.”
So much so that Paul and I have to plan our conversation around the plots Paul is planning for his clients.
Are they residential or commercial?
“I mainly work in private gardens, planting gardens,” he explains.
“And then Diarmuid and I also work on projects together.”
It would be Diarmuid Gavin, the famous gardener who is Paul’s pal and the co-author of a new book,.
This is meant as a super handy guide to the basics of gardening, month by month, but it’s also meant for and inspired by those new “lockdown gardeners” we’re talking about.
Confined to barracks, so many people were hungry for information on growing and caring for their plants.
“This book explores the basics of gardening and how to understand their soil,” says Paul.
“It breaks down the mystery of gardening and also explores the holistic benefits of gardening.”
But while Paul is quick to point out that he’s the “nerdy” and Diarmuid the “designer” half, he adds that the book strikes the irreverent tone their fans love.
Paul graduated from the Waterford Institute of Technology in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. He worked as chief propagator at Crug Farm, the internationally renowned nursery in North Wales, for three years.
“I was working at a rare plant nursery as a propagator, that took me all over the world collecting plants,” he says.
“I was doing all kinds of crazy and different things. I even found myself in Vietnam, on a plant hunting expedition.
Closer to home, Paul’s career also involved creating award-winning nursery displays at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, as did Diarmuid.
And, to my ears, it sounds like a cross between a garden festival and a comedy that set the stage for the couple’s first meeting.
Did their eyes meet through the ferns?
“The story involves houseplants and a tattoo parlour,” Paul explains.
“I was working in Snowdonia in North Wales, in the middle of nowhere, and I loved it. Diarmuid was involved in a planned project involving a plant shop with a tattoo parlor and cafe in London.
“Diarmuid phoned me and I joined him on the project. The shop didn’t see the light of day – that’s a very long story, and that was before Covid, in 2019 – but we kept working on garden projects, and just when Covid hit, we had a few ideas on the horizon.
“The day we realized lockdown was a new reality, Diarmuid called me, saying he had this idea and I would help him.”
During the pandemic Paul returned to Ireland and was based in Carlow and Diarmuid was at home in Co Wicklow and on March 18, 2020 Diarmuid pressed the live button on Instagram and launched a daily show pledging that ‘they and their gardening friends would be available throughout the pandemic lockdown with advice.
It quickly became a television seriesinitially for RTÉ and more recently broadcast by the BBC.
Of course, Diarmuid presented gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show nine times from 1995 to 2016, winning numerous medals, including gold in 2011. He has also authored or co-authored at least ten gardening-related books.
“We decided to go live on Instagram and for the next year did so almost every night developing a following of dedicated viewers, who watched us discuss the gardens, design, propagate and do our best to convey gardening knowledge that we were lucky enough to learn,” says Paul.
“Our ‘Gardening Together’ book is an extension of that and features many of the topics we’ve talked about and photos from the past two years.”is divided into 12 chapters in month-by-month format and shows exactly what to do in the garden and when to do it so readers can make the most of their outdoor space, whatever its size.
- Join Paul and Diarmuid at Kenny’s Bookshop, Galway on Friday May 27 at 6pm as the gardeners, podcasters and authors record the latest episode of their DIRT podcast
- ‘Gardening Together’ by Diarmuid Gavin and Paul Smyth is published by Gill Books
A small space can offer a lot of potential and any outdoor space is invaluable.
Here are some tips to get the most out of it:
Lawns have their place, but in a very small garden they are often shaded, filled with moss and muddy in winter. If you are tarring or gravelling the lawn, make plenty of extra space for plants at the sides and expand the planting areas to compensate for the loss of lawn. Maybe you’ll keep the lawn, but consider letting a small patch grow and adding some native wildflowers in the fall for a long-lasting, beautiful patch next summer.
We often think of a small space as an area of limited size, but there’s no limit to how tall you have, so use that space! Most small gardens have walls or buildings nearby, providing the perfect opportunity for planting a multitude of climbing plants, providing hedging and flowers.
Ivy is a classic that many can turn their noses up at
up to, but it is a native, evergreen and winter bloomer, producing pollen at a critical time of the year when few others do. Climbing hydrangeas are a favorite, and you can get them in deciduous and evergreen forms. They have the added benefit of doing well in a very dark garden or against a north-facing wall.
For a sunnier wall, Solanum Crispum ‘Glasnevin’ is a fantastic plant that blooms for months and is covered in cheerful blue to purple blooms. It is also very vigorous and persistent.
You may be lucky enough to have room for a tree, if so, a small columnar tree is a good idea. Cherry trees are always a favorite and Prunus serrulata ‘Amanogawa’ is a classic columnar cherry.
Hornbeams make narrow, neat trees and can also take on a certain shape, try Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris Nana’.
There are apples that take up very little space and reward you with fruit later in the summer and flowers in the spring. Keep an eye out for miniature crown apple trees, which have been bred to take up minimal space.
The pots are simply wonderful; you can get just about any style these days and any size to suit your space. In fact, you can grow an entire garden in a few pots if you choose small trees, shrubs, and long-flowering perennials.
If you have a very delicate space, you may even consider building your own planters. Just be sure to add drainage. This is a key rule of growing plants in containers, making sure you water regularly but also have good drainage holes in the bottom of whatever you plant.
I use old tin tubs, but I drill a lot of holes in them before filling them with soil.
Investing in good compost is another annoying but important point when planting a pot, remember that the plant can stay there for years, so good John Innes soil-based compost is usually the best.
Feeding your pots liquid is the last thing you will need to do to ensure a fabulous garden in a pot. General purpose food is good for most plants, and tomato food is great for anything you want lots of flowers!
One of my favorite things to do in a small space is making bulb lasagna, which isn’t as silly as it sounds! You can do them in pots or in the ground.
Choose your favorite spring-flowering bulbs in the fall: Crocuses, dwarf daffodils, scillas, fritillarias, tulips and irises can all be packed into a tiny space, the idea being to bury the largest bulb first, then to go up through the sizes, with a layer of soil or compost between each different species. As long as the bulbs don’t touch each other, you’ll be fine.
If you choose a lot of varieties, you can make your pot or lasagna flower bed bloom from February to May.
Once your lasagna pots are finished, you can think about the summer color. The frost has now passed as we are coming to the end of May, so you can fill the pots with all the bedding plants you can wish for.
Cosmos, marigolds, petunias, salvias and a host of annuals that will fill your garden with color all summer long until we have a frost in the fall.
These plants are true divas, but they will reward you with months of blooms if you water them, turn them off, and feed them continuously. They are great for adding a splash of color and are worth the extra effort.