A new generation of gardeners has emerged from the pandemic. But now the world has opened up again, will that change?
Not if plantman Paul Smyth is anything.
Talking to Paul, who divides his life between his native Carlow, his adopted home of Wales and Dublin, where he works two days a week, is fun and hectic.
As we talk, he literally sprints from one garden to another, making appointment after appointment in his jam-packed gardening schedule.
I think this green mania is here to stay.
“Definitely. I see it right here, even today in Dublin. My phone jumped. Interest in gardening hasn’t gone away,” says Paul.
“It was certainly bigger than at any time since Covid. It has become a hobby for so many people, and the thing about gardening is, once you’ve been bitten by gardening fever, it’s got you.
“Covid has created so many new gardeners.”
So much so that Paul and I have to plan our conversation around the plans Paul has for his clients.
Is it residential or commercial?
“I work mainly in private gardens, the planting of the gardens,” he says.
“And then Diarmuid and I also work on projects together.”
That would be Diarmuid Gavin, the renowned garden designer, Paul’s sidekick and co-author of a new book,.
This is meant to be a super handy guide to gardening basics, month by month, but it also caters to and inspires these new ‘lockdown gardeners’ we’re talking about.
Locked in the barracks, so many people were hungry for information on how to grow and care for their crops.
“This book explores the basics of gardening and how to understand your soil,” says Paul.
“It unveils the mysteries of gardening and also explores the holistic benefits of gardening.”
But while Paul is quick to point out that he’s the “nerd” and Diarmuid the “design” half, he adds that the book strikes the irreverent tone its fans love.
Paul graduated from the Waterford Institute of Technology in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture. He worked for three years as chief propagator at Crug Farm, the internationally renowned nursery in North Wales.
“I worked at a rare plant nursery as their propagator, it took me all over the world to collect plants,” he says.
“I’ve done all kinds of crazy different things. I even ended up in Vietnam on a plant hunting expedition.”
Closer to home, Paul’s career has also included creating award winning nursery displays at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – just like Diarmuid.
And to my ears, it sounds like a mix between a garden party and a comedy caper that set the scene for the couple’s first meeting.
Did their eyes meet across the ferns?
“The story is about houseplants and a tattoo parlor,” says Paul.
“I worked in Snowdonia, North Wales, in the middle of nowhere, and loved it. Diarmuid was involved in a proposed project that included a plant shop with a tattoo parlor and cafe in London.
“Diarmuid called me and I joined him on the project. The shop didn’t come into being – it’s a very long story and was all before Covid in 2019 – but we’ve continued to work on some garden projects and just as Covid hit we had a few ideas on the horizon.
“The day we realized lockdown was a new reality, Diarmuid called me and said he had this idea and if I would help him.”
During the pandemic Paul moved back to Ireland and lived in Carlow and Diarmuid made his home in Co Wicklow and on March 18th 2020 Diarmuid hit the live button on Instagram and started a daily broadcast pledged that she and her Gardening enthusiasts would be on hand with advice during the pandemic lockdown.
This soon became a television seriesoriginally broadcast for RTÉ and more recently by the BBC.
Of course, Diarmuid has presented gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show on nine occasions from 1995 to 2016 and has won a number of medals, including gold in 2011. He is also the author or co-author of at least ten books on the subject of gardens.
“We decided to go live on Instagram and did so almost every night for the next year to build a following of devoted viewers who watched us chat about gardens, designing and propagating and doing our best to share the gardening knowledge that we had enough to learn,” says Paul.
“Our book ‘Gardening Together’ is an extension of that and contains many of the topics we talked about and photos from the last two years.”is divided into 12 chapters in a monthly format, showing exactly what to do in the garden and when to do it so readers can make the most of their outdoor space, no matter its size.
- Join Paul and Diarmuid at Kenny’s Bookshop, Galway on Friday 27th May at 6pm as the gardeners, podcasters and writers record the latest episode of their podcast DIRT
- Gardening Together by Diarmuid Gavin and Paul Smyth is published by Gil Books
A small space can offer a lot of potential and any outdoor space is invaluable.
Here are a few tips to make the most of it:
Lawns have their place, but in a very small garden they are often shady, moss-covered and are mud baths in winter. If you pave or gravel the lawn, create a lot of extra space for plants on the sides and expand the planting areas to compensate for the lawn loss. You might keep the lawn, but consider growing a small patch and adding native wildflowers in the fall for a sustainable and beautiful patch next summer.
We often think that a small space is a limited area, but there’s no limit to how high you can have his property, so make use of that space! Most small gardens have walls or buildings nearby, providing the perfect opportunity to plant a variety of vines to provide cover and flowers.
Ivy is a classic that many may turn their noses at
up to, but it is a native evergreen and flowers in winter and produces pollen at a critical time of the year when there is little else. Climbing hydrangeas are a favorite, and you can get them in both deciduous and evergreen forms. They have the added benefit of thriving in a very dark garden or on a north wall.
For a sunnier wall, Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’ is a fantastic plant that blooms for months and is covered in cheerful blue to purple flowers. It is very vigorous and also evergreen.
If you are lucky enough to have space for a tree, 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 lovely narrow trees and can take on some shape too, try Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris Nana’.
There are apples that take up very little space and will reward you with fruit later in the summer and flowers in the spring. Keep an eye out for canopy miniature apple trees that have been grown to take up minimal space.
Pots are just wonderful; You can get pretty much any style and size to suit your space these days. In fact, you can grow an entire garden in just a few pots if you choose small trees, shrubs and long-flowering perennials.
If you have a very difficult space, you can even consider building your own planters. Just be sure to add drainage. That’s a key rule for growing plants in pots, making sure you’re watering regularly but also having good drainage holes in the bottom of whatever you’re planting in.
I use old tin baths but drill lots of holes in them before filling them with soil.
Investing in a good compost is another tedious but important point of planting a pot. Keep in mind that the plant can stay there for years, so a good John Innes soil-based compost is usually best.
Liquid feeding your pots is the last thing you need to do to ensure a fabulous potted garden. An all-purpose fertilizer is good for most plants, and tomato fertilizer is great for anything you expect a lot of blooms from!
One of my favorite things to do in a small space is making onion lasagna, which isn’t as silly as it sounds! You can do these in pots or in the ground.
In the fall, pick your favorite spring bloomers: crocuses, dwarf daffodils, scillas, fritillarias, tulips and irises can all be tucked away into the smallest of spaces because the idea is to bury the largest bulb first and then work your way up in sizes, with one layer Earth or compost between each species. As long as the bulbs aren’t touching, they’re fine.
If you opt for many varieties, you can have your lasagna pot or bed bloom from February to May.
Once your lasagna pots are ready, you can start thinking about summer color. The frost is over now as we approach the end of May so you can fill pots with whatever bedding plants you desire.
Cosmos, marigolds, petunias, sage and a variety of annuals that will fill your garden with color all summer until we get frost in the fall.
These plants are real divas, but they will reward you with months of bloom if you water, prune and feed them continuously. They’re great for adding a pop of color and are well worth the extra effort.