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Mystery of Magical Gardens

Mystery of Magical Gardens

Have you ever walked into a garden and felt yourself sigh in delight? Some gardens have that magical quality to them and yet are simply a few trees and shrubs, whilst others, designed to the millimetre, fail to inspire. The best gardens are the ones that leave us breathless, that have that little spark of magic that is hard to describe and almost impossible to define. Gardens that stop time and allow us to be totally in the moment. Now that the leaves are falling off the trees and gardens are preparing for hibernation of Winter it is a good time to reflect and what makes some gardens so great.

In the RTÉ Super Garden show my fellow Judges Roisin Lafferty and Gary Graham and I often talk about this special something that makes a garden great. It’s a fascinating thing to explore and though we agree that it’s more than the ingredients of the space and more than the construction elements, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes that special space. Yes, of course these practical elements matter and without them the garden would inevitably fail but sometimes it takes more to create garden magic. So what is it that gives one garden magic and leaves others flat?

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 material 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.

Show gardens in one 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, show gardens 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. Yet show gardens deal with the same issue of what it takes to create magic. Some have it, some don’t.

When it comes to gardens for real living the most important factor is to make the garden all about you. This is your space and you will be the one living in it and enjoying it so every detail should be totally customised around you. By doing this you will also create a garden that is 100% different from any other because after all, every person is unique. You see, as an interior architect and garden designer I feel that the garden should wrap and blend in with the home you have created over many years and it is just as much a part of your home as your kitchen or living spaces.

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 your taste and the things you love to do combined with site specific references are always a good starting point. The garden should ultimately be more than a pretty picture for you to look at: It should be a space that makes your life more joyful every day.


Magical Show Gardens

Bloom in the park is gardens largest garden and food show and takes place in the Phoenix Park over the June bank holiday weekend every year. It’s where we see Ireland’s best designers come together to create their garden showcases and the show garden section which is beside the Victorian walled garden offers endless design ideas and inspiration. Taking a cure from some talented Designers we consider what makes these gardens magical at Bloom in the Park.


Moorish inspired Magic

This years RTE Super Garden winner Alexandra Hollingsworth created a garden that had a distinctly Moroccan influence and was a very special place to experience. The concept from Glasnevin to Granada was cleverly referenced in the combination of traditional Victorian features and combined with Moorish elements which resulted in a vibrant space that had a great balance of both styles. Built by Bloom veteran Alan Smyth, this garden had a strong geometric elegance and was beautifully finished. Finishing touches such as the brick walling and accessories brought the concept to life and gave the garden a magical feel.


Native Irish Magic

This stunning garden by Deirdre Pender (above) which was also shown at Bloom in the Park in 2014 had a magic of a different kind. Here space and subtlety played a role on creating a scheme that was magical in its simplicity and yet all details were masterfully executed. The elegant colours of white and yellow reflected the Irish landscape and worked wonderfully with the modern touches of smooth concrete and circular water feature. Tiny details such as wild strawberries in flower and scattering of brown beech leaves made the garden feel both ancient and modern.


Asian Jungle magic

Above in this garden, RTE Super Garden winner 2014 Cian Hawes has created a strong scheme based around the colours green and purple. The space used structural planting in the form of bamboo, ferns and tree ferns to create a really magical feel which acted as a perfect backdrop for the floating purple Alliums. One of my favourite elements of this Bloom in the Park garden was the green wall which made the space feel both calm and endless giving it a depth which was surprising. The innovative use of materials was something that gave this garden an added edge and made it such a unique space.


Sweet Ballygowan 

If you’re looking for a little slice of garden heaven to escape to have a look at this stunning little cottage in County Galway called ‘Sweet Ballygowan’. This early 20th century farmers cottage is nestled in the in the hills between Portumna, Woodford and Loughrea in the rural town land of Ballygowan and has been lovingly restored to the highest spec. Looking at the beautiful decor and stunning surrounding gardens I was not surprised to learn that the space has been created by Raytus Gassner, the man behind Yes flowers in Galway, a beautiful bespoke florist in Galway’s Latin quarter. The gardens are a haven of flowers created by this talented florist with formal buxus hedging and an explosion of elegant colour surrounding the cottage. Apart from enjoying the romantic gardens here is so much to do in the area with Galway about 40 minutes away and the Burren close by. Guests can also enjoy homemade jams an cordials from the gardens. The main cottage offers accommodation for up to four guests and the Stables which is adjacent is a one bed apartment and has room for two more guests. For more go to or follow Sweet Ballygowan on Instagram

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