Out for Coffee with Diarmuid Gavin


Diarmuid Gavin joins NewsFour for a coffee on the Ringsend banks of the Liffey. The once self-confessed loner turned gardener extraordinaire has been a staple of the horticultural scene for the past 20 years, appearing on prominent TV programs such as BBC’s Home Front and RTE’s I Want A Garden. Inspired by his dad to pursue gardening, Diarmuid talks about how he went from a shy boy to considering leaping into the pond at Buckingham Palace naked.

LC: Where did your interest in gardening come from?
DG: When I was a kid I was a bit of a loner, a bit of a daydreamer. I was fascinated with design and gardens, maybe not as a kid but as I grew up. I always remember watching my dad and uncle creating the first garden outside our house; it was a real achievement for our parents, who had come from inner-city Dublin.

LC: Where did you go to school and how did that lead to gardening?
DG: When I left school I started off in a restaurant in Temple Bar. I was going to be a chef, but after four or five months I went into gardening and worked in a gardening shop on Merrion Street, called Mackey’s, for three years, and then started working in the Botanic Gardens.

LC: What was it like to work there?
As a 19-year-old, I was beyond shy. I was paranoid, very reclusive. My brother had been killed in a car accident when I was younger. Going into Mackey’s, I just entered another world of people from the city and the country, and people who all loved this gardening thing which I was drawn to, but wasn’t too sure why. It was a place where I made friends for the first time. I loved it!

LC: What was your first break?
We built a garden inspired by Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean: slabs of glass in a lawn that lit up when you stood on them. Nobody understood it, but it looked good on television. Alan Titchmarsh (gardener and BBC presenter) came along. He didn’t understand it, but they featured it on the Chelsea Flower live show, and the following day my world had changed. Within a couple of months I started making television programmes.

LC: You worked on Home Front; what was that like?
There was an interiors programme called Home Front, with a whole roster of designers. I did a pilot and it was a massive hit, and three years in we took over the main programme with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

LC: Obviously it was a successful time for you. What are your favourite memories?
I remember being at Buckingham Palace at a party, with a bottle of champagne in my hand, about to strip off and go swimming in the pond; it was that mad! I rearranged the Blue Peter garden at Television Centre with Primal Scream at 3am. The owner of Harrods, Mohamed Al-Fayed, closed down Harrods one night to give a party for me, and I’ve no memories of that party, but I know it happened.

LC: Tell me about your involvement in the Our Town initiative?
I had done the RTE programme Dirty Old Towns and I wanted to continue working in the area of community regeneration. I was really taken by the idea of a community working together. I knew Felim Dunne (an architect) and asked him if he would be involved, and he brought the Ringsend project to my attention.

LC: What’s the aim of the project?
The aim of the project is to work with the community and see what the community needs.

LC: Have you figured out what the community needs?
We’re in the process. It’s really important that we feel we’re speaking for the community and that we’re accepted as a voice of the community. Our work in the last six months has been to listen and try to understand, and to see if people will engage with us.