On the road to the Chelsea Flower Show

Dubliner Dairmuid Gavin is showing the only garden from outside Britain
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I feel as if I'm demented at the moment. In a few days Vincent Barnes and I are due to open our second garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. Organising things from Ireland has not been without its problems and we are, again, bringing the only garden from outside Britain.

In the run up to leaving Dublin for London I couldn't sleep. After two or three hours lying in bed I'd get up and leave the house. I'd drive from Ranelagh, for miles down towards Wexford, or around the city, through Howth, on to Portmarnock.

Dublin at 5am is a great place, the last of the drunks are gone, there's no traffic on the roads and buildings are soothed by streetlights. All the problems and ideas which plagued me would slowly sort themselves out and every mile or two I'd pull in and jot something in a notebook.

I almost decided to buy a pair of roller-blades for my early morning trips. They're so much cheaper than petrol. I told people that if they saw a guy whizzing along O'Connell Street at 5am one morning with a copy of Garden Artistry by Helen Dillion in his hand, they shouldn't call the men in white coats. They'd know I was just looking for inspiration.

Chelsea: that's where a few hundred thousand people come to see 20 gardens over four days. And I wonder how many of those garden designers have been making midnight drives down the M1 or through little villages in Shropshire, counting in their minds all the jobs to be done.

Until a few weeks ago, nothing existed of our 1996 Irish Chelsea garden, other than a drawing. In interviews I have always read that the gardens are a year in the making, well ours hasn't been. But we did have an exhausting six months trying to find sponsorship.

The plot we have isn't big. It's 27ft by 31ft, which doesn't seem like much. Yet when every square inch is examined by judges, then 800 journalists and 50 camera crews, it has to be up-to-scratch.

Last year we raised and spent about pounds 17,000 on our patch. The garden beside us spent pounds 60,000. The most expensive one cost pounds 160,000. So, you can see how its all about money. Much more than good design, money matters.

For months I wrote to every business I could think of, trying to raise about pounds 30,000. I rang people, then went to see them or sat at their reception desks armed with newspaper cuttings. And we made up a video with clips of all our television footage.

Eventually things began to happen, RyanAir came on board with flights and cash, so that gave us great hope. Bord Glas, the horticultural board who were one of our main sponsors last year, said that they would be helping our journey again. And then we met Feilim McCloskey from Mosney Holiday Centre. He sat down and listened to myself and Vincent tell the story of last year. Talks began, firstly over weeks, then over months.

Our idea was to bring the garden to Chelsea, then to transfer it to Mosney in county Meath for three months.

Well, protracted negotiations over a few months ended up in Dayton-style peace talks. These took place in Dublin's Burlington Hotel.

Six of us, three from each side, sat around a table at a secluded corner of the bar. Talking was fast and furious and no one noticed that we had in fact situated ourselves under the bar's big television screen. On came the TV and as the most exciting match of this year's premiership Liverpool v Newcastle drew seven goals, we ploughed on regardless.

The following day the deal was signed and so the garden will go from Chelsea to county Meath in early June. The commitment from Mosney is a huge one, they were the only Irish company willing to take on such a project and we look forward to working with them.

Last year's garden was a vision of a Kerry Paradise. Old rural Ireland. This year is completely different. A curved glass brick-and-stainless- steel wall is the main feature, with water pouring down the bricks, inspired by the toilets in a night-club.

Glass slabs dot the perfect lawn, and these light up when stood on. John Travolta in Saturday Fever, eh?

Apple computers are another very helpful sponsor, and in Mosney our garden will be known as the Apple Garden. By speaking into a hidden microphone, the water will start running, the lights will come on and the garden will come to life.

A bit gimmicky? Maybe. But why does garden design have to remain in the Dark Ages. Look what Philip Tracey is doing for hats, look at the vibrancy of some of the buildings in Temple Bar, the materials used. Chelsea, in terms of design, is a disaster. Nearly all the gardens are stage sets, with everyone afraid to buckle the status quo.

I want to design a garden that is as sleazy as a brothel, or one that has as much fun as some of Gaudi's work in Barcelona.

Work in Ireland, especially, gets me down. We have so many magnificent estates that are being restored right round the country. Box hedges and yew walls in profusion. And lots of the gardens in these places are established as copies of English gardens owned by absentee landlords. Why not introduce something new, some passion, some excitement?

This is what, I hope, Chelsea will let me do. I want some guy from Los Angeles to offer me an obscene amount of money to design a garden with a sense of adventure. It will happen sometime. That's the plus of Chelsea. It's a world stage.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Independent

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