It’s that time of the year again and I am delighted to be back filming the wonderful show that is RTE Super Garden. The popular show which sees five designers creating gardens for real homeowners with the hope of getting their winning garden a place at the Bloom in the Park festival on the June bank holiday weekend.
This is no easy task, I know this because in 2012 I took part in the show myself as a contestant and remember the blood, sweat and tears it took to create the garden that went on to win not only the show but also gold and best in category at Bloom in the Park. From challenging timescales to super low budgets, RTE Super garden really tests your skills, determination and patience and it was one of the most testing but also most rewarding times of my career as a designer.
So what makes a garden Super?
As a Designer I am fascinated by how the designed garden space is really an extension of our interior lives and ultimately ourselves. Successful design is rooted in underlying design theories: balance and proportion, function and form, circulation, harmony and balance. Then there is colour theory and plant choice as well as clever and learned planting combination. In essence good design theory creates successful spaces. And yet, sometimes a garden that works in theory, lacks in imagination.
So if not just design theory then what makes a design magic? Perhaps it’s something that the garden designer Dan Pearson calls Spirit and it relies on a lot of tiny factors, like a puzzle, that come together to create the bigger picture. Dan’s approach believes that good garden design needs to have a sense of nature being a delicate and evolving living organism and not a stationary moment in time.
Showgardens in a way are the opposite of this holistic and time-evolving approach. Where in real gardens change is inevitable, with the space maturing and evolving over time, showgardens are a mere brief moment in time. Created to be show-stoppingly beautiful, they are then taken down again just when they start to grow. Like the movie star that dies young they are forever captured in perfect beauty and somewhat removed from reality. Yet showgardens deal with the same issue of what it takes to create magic. Some have it, some don’t.
Creating gardens on the RTE Super Garden show is a mix of the two. They need to be real gardens for a real client and yet deliver on that little added extra that a really special garden needs in order to be a show garden.
For the last two years I have had the role of mentor for the new designers on the show and felt that helping the designers create gardens was very inspiring. This year the lovely Woodie’s brand have chosen me as their design ambassador and Judge and this has opened up a whole new world of seeing the gardens at completion stage but also from the different angle of Judging.
It has been an incredibly rewarding experience taking on this role and working with so many talented and wonderful people has been an inspiration. My fellow judges are the lovely Roisin Lafferty of Kingston Lafferty Designs who is a seriously talented interior Architect and Designer carving out a strong career in the design world both here and abroad and of course Bloom show manager Gary Graham who is celebrating the 10 year anniversary at the show and knows exactly what it takes to create a successful show garden.
Some advice on approaching the design process
I feel that sympathetically designed gardens aim not only to take into account the existing site but also the interior of the house and the style and lifestyle of the client. Good garden design should aim to create something a more than just a garden. A spark taken from the clients taste and loves combined with site specific references are always a good starting point. The garden should ultimately be more than a pretty picture for the client to look at: It should be a space that makes the users life more joyful.
For me garden’s should be spaces that aim to ground us yet inspire us to dream. It should allow us to own the space and make it ours without ever forgetting that we are part of a far greater wild and wonderful picture. Sometimes it is impossible to define what it actually comes down to, like a person with intense charisma, some gardens just shine brighter than others.
What am I looking for as a Judge?
This year as Judge I would love to find a garden that takes a bit of a risk in terms of design. I’m interested in seeing a garden that has a strong and unique concept and is then carried out to a high standard. I feel the he winning garden has to be one that takes its brief from the homeowners and the site and delivers for them but also uses that brief to create something totally new, exciting and show garden worthy. No easy task!
The best of luck to all the designers. May the best Supergarden win.
Catch RTE Super garden Tuesdays at 8.30pm on RTE One