"Delve Deeper" Garden Design

    I finally sat down to delve deeper into this garden design I created for a popular Irish TV show called Super Garden last summer. However, it's impossible to do so without mentioning that I'm writing with a heavy heart (I'll explain at the very end).  Since the show is competitive, I had to wait 9 months for the new season to air and the winner to be announced before I could talk about this particular project so as not to breach the contract (or ruin the element of surprise, of course).

    After meeting with the homeowners - a widower and his two teenage sons - I had a vague brief: a low maintenance garden with Japanese/zen elements and a space to commemorate his late wife. Even though there were many show-related rules I had to follow, and plenty of obstacles along the way, I'm just going to mention those I believe were crucial to the execution of this design, and what I would do differently if it weren't for the short time span I had to turn my vision into reality.

    The budget was 16,000 Euro, and it was split into 3 main categories. We had 3,5 weeks to build the garden. The winning design got to be recreated at the prestigious Bloom Festival (the Irish version of RHS Chelsea Flower Show).  I'd love to talk about the whole experience, from the moment I got the first call from the production company to the very last day, but again, NDA to keep the mystery and magic of telly alive, hence the purpose of this blog post is to focus on the design, and talk more about the details that were not fully covered in my episode (the format of the show is way too short for all that).

Design Inspiration

    I'm fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in the Irish National War Memorial Gardens which I believe is the most beautiful park in Dublin, and is also somewhat of a hidden gem. While this park was built in the Neoclassical style, it's quite obvious it impacted my thinking. I am a huge fan of sunken gardens, geometrical symmetry and architecture, so I immediately knew I had to incorporate these elements into my design which came to me in a wave of inspiration (after I was initially worried I won't come up with anything original and striking enough). 

Design Concept
    My approach to design in general is to reconnect or introduce people to the idea that we are not part of nature - we ARE nature, and to possibly embody the philosophy that there is no separation between anything in the Universe. I believe it's one of my missions to demonstrate these, sometimes mind-bending quantum physics concepts, through good design execution (and conceptual art in this case). 

    One of the many ways to achieve these higher states of consciousness is through the practice of meditation, as millions already know, but what's even more interesting is the fact this has now been scientifically measured. In the recent years, there have been numerous studies showing the actual chemical changes and benefits that happen in our brains and bodies during (and after) meditation. This is one of my all-time favourite topics, and as someone who has experienced these benefits firsthand, it's only natural to want to share this knowledge and feel inspired by it.  Now merge all this with plants and trees (that are already known to have a positive impact on our wellbeing), and that's how this garden design was born!

    "Delve Deeper" is a 4-tiered design (3 tiers are for planters, and 1 for the seating area).  The top tier represents beta brain waves (fully conscious, active state, cognitive thinking); this area was reserved for sturdy plants, trees and topiaries – mostly dense looking plants.  The middle tier symbolises alpha brain waves (relaxed focus, positive thinking); this area was reserved for shrubs, herbs, perennials, etc. The lowest tier represents theta brain waves (deep relaxation, meditation, creativity); it was reserved for varieties of ornamental grass.  The seating area represents the subconscious mind, and the focal point of the seating area is the fire pit which symbolises the gradually reached transcendental state.  The colour scheme was shades of green, purple and pink (with a hint of yellow) against a white and brown background, but the real focus is on texture and movement/rhythm to further emphasise the symbolism behind it. I loved the woodland right behind the property which added even more interest to the garden. 

     There's over 50 plant varieties in this garden design, and most of them provide a year-round interest with their different blooming times. Also, a large number of specimens used are highly attractive to pollinators. Another thing I always had in mind is the future of this garden. While it may look like there's too much concrete used, I purposefuly used some ground covering plants that will overgrow and hence reduce the appearance of sharp edges.

Design Execution

    This garden was mostly built by 3 people, myself included. We had some help occassionally, but it was just the 3 (or the 2) of us on most days. The amount of work that went on behind the scenes was enormous, and the pressure was real. The weather was extremely unkind, and under normal circumstances, work would pause during days with heavy rain, but we didn't have that luxury. This is the main reason why the finished work wasn't as "neat" as I would have liked it to be, but my perfectionism had to take a back seat this time. There was no outdoor tap, so everything you see here was built using buckets. There are also 4 manholes in this garden which is atypical, and building a patio around them required a lot of precise and tedious cutting work. There was one more thing I wanted to do, but I didn't get a green light from the County Council. If I had more time, and wasn't completely physically and mentally drained (bear in mind I was being filmed and interviewed the whole time on top of all the other duties I simultaneously had), I would have done more creative DIY work, like making kokedamas to place around the garden, etc. By the way, I need to mention how extremelly grateful I am to all the "fairy godmothers" who made the execution of this complex design possible. (Guess how many tons of soil were brought into those planters).

Final Thoughts
     While I do understand the current trends in the garden design industry as well as the reasoning behind it, I've never been one to follow trends in any area of my life, especially not if it's just to blend in with the masses and/or to receive external validation. I'm not saying all trends are bad or useless, I just believe we should look at things holistically and beyond what is familiar. For example, I have a raised bed for vegetables in my own garden, and while I would love for everyone to grow their own food, I understand that's not always realistic, and cannot impose ideas on clients, even though I am aware incorporating pretty much any sustainable idea in your garden design is something desirable nowadays. Anyway, I could go on talking about this because there are so many details that go into a project like this, but I believe this was enough to have a better understanding of the background story. 

    This whole experience gave me a lot of food for thought. Admittedly, I was cought off guard by some humans who still haven't evolved past judging and commenting on people they've never met on the Internet based on a gardening TV show that has clearly been edited for entertainment. Another thing that annoyed me was seeing media outlets using the wrong promo photos of my garden, but all that noise was put into perspective as soon as I was informed of John's (this year's Super Garden winner) passing just one day after Bloom. John was a kind soul, and I actually got to help him and his wife Liz with the planting at Bloom. We saw each other again during the festival. The visitors were obsessed with them and their show garden, they could barely catch a breath. We had a laugh while talking about the future before he left this dimension, and it was such a strange feeling hearing this news because of the bizarre timing... I hadn't dealt with death in a long time, and I kept thinking about Liz since they were such a harmonious couple... This was actually the first Irish funeral I attended, and it was a relief to witness the fact that Irish funerals are a celebration of someone's life, and not at all a gloomy affair. Winning Super Garden was John's dream, and I trully hope it was all worth it in the end. Here's to all the gardeners of the world! May touching the soil always bring you joy and peace.


  1. OK. You definitely have to demand that RTE to change the "after" picture.

    1. I flagged it immediately, but it hasn't been rectified as you can see. Can't be bothered with chasing anyone at this point. :-)


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